In 1999 David Duval ascended to No. 1 in the World Ranking, played on his first Ryder Cup team and won four Tour events and more than $3.6 million, finishing second on the money list. Has anyone ever had a worse year?
Duval, 28, began the season as the best player in the world and finished it as the most enigmatic. Along the way his bulletproof game disappeared at two defining moments—on the back nine on Sunday at the Masters and on the weekend of the U.S. Open. Duval's season soon spun out of control as he began making headlines with his mouth, not his golf.
Duval sparked a tabloid frenzy at the British Open for his criticism of Carnoustie, and a month later at the PGA he was singled out as the ringleader of the Brook-line Four, having launched the Ryder Cup pay-for-play controversy with some typically blunt remarks. Finally, Duval skipped the season-ending World tour event at Valderrama, claiming he didn't want to travel to Spain because there was nothing to play for. Duval's no-show dealt such a blow to the credibility of the nascent circuit that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem felt compelled to offer an alibi on Duval's behalf. At some point during all this, Duval went from being respected for his honesty to being reviled for his selfishness. The public wanted to know: Was this guy ever going to just shut up and play?
Duval is still talking, though he's wary these days. Request an interview, and he asks the first questions: "What's your tone going to be?" he says. "Am I going to get nailed again? I'm a little gun-shy about all of this."
All this, Duval says, is "the b.s. factor—a lot of peripheral stuff that's absurd to my mind. It's disgusting to me that people read and believe this filth. It's reckless, it's malicious, and it's unfair."
Duval has an impressive vocabulary, but over the last eight months he hasn't come up with an eloquent rebuttal, on or off the course, to his critics. Case in point was last week's Skins Game outside Palm Springs, Calif. What was he even doing there? Duval wouldn't deign to go to Spain but traveled cross-country over the Thanksgiving holiday to tee it up in the most Velveeta of all made-for-TV spectacles. "I believe we're private contractors, are we not?" he says.
Duval hardly made a stronger case between the ropes. He sleepwalked around Landmark Golf Club, distracted and distant. Duval was shut out during last Saturday's opening nine and drew a blank again on Sunday, running his skinless streak to 36 holes, including his 0-fer in 1997. He missed a four-footer that would have won a skin at the 15th, and on the par-5 18th, with the largest skin in the event's history ($410,000) on the line, he dumped his second shot in the water, taking an ignominious X. That opened the door for Fred Couples, who, after driving into a flower bed, scrambled for a birdie to win the skin. For two days' work Couples collected a Skins-record $635,000, Mark O'Meara cashed $245,000, and Sergio Garcia, in his first Skins Game, made $120,000.
The Skins was Duval's final appearance of '99. "I thought it was a great, great year," he says, "but no matter what happens, it's never going to be enough for everybody. That's one thing I learned this year."
The end of Duval's year was in stark contrast to the beginning. He opened with a command performance at the Mercedes Championships, winning by nine strokes, and three weeks later dropped his historic 59 on the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. That start, combined with his Tour-leading four wins in '98, left little doubt that Duval was the best player in the world, and that he still trailed Tiger Woods in the World Ranking provoked weekly waves of protest. Duval finally ended Woods's 41-week reign with a dominating victory in the Players Championship at the end of March. Duval won again a week later, at the BellSouth Classic, and then roared into the Masters for what was supposed to be his coronation. Instead, he lost his aura of invincibility.
The first crack appeared during the second round at Augusta National, when after laying up at the par-5 15th, he made a shocking triple bogey. He clawed back into contention and, after a stirring charge on Sunday, was within one of the leaders when he reached the 11th hole. There Duval splashed his four-iron approach into Rae's Creek, leading to a double bogey that killed his chances. "I haven't thought about that shot since it happened," he says.