Is it me, or is David Duval turning into Charlie Croker, the protagonist in one of his favorite books, Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full? Duval, like his fictional counterpart, is a onetime Georgia Tech star, and like Croker he is facing a personal and professional crisis in the shadows of Atlanta. Duval hasn't won a tournament in more than a year—since the '99 BellSouth Classic outside Atlanta—and a few weeks ago he traveled down the road to Augusta and blew the Masters for the third straight year. More jarring than Duval's performance was his comportment. Two days before the tournament, he capped months of outspoken obsessing about the Masters by saying, "This is my tournament to win or lose," a shocking breach of conduct for the most reserved of players. The brashness of Duval's prediction is reminiscent of Croker's preening arrogance in the face of financial ruin.
That is only the beginning of their similarities. Like Croker, a rural Georgian out of place in the fake, flashy world of Atlanta's high society, Duval, in his six years on Tour, has rarely seemed comfortable. The introverted Duval often speaks with a bluntness that's off-putting in this sound-bite-driven world. Duval claims to want the burdens of being a top player, but he has yet to prove he can handle them. Hoping to blend in, Croker took on a trophy wife and an overdecorated mansion in Buckhead. Duval has opted for trying to project a kinder, gentler image. He underwent a session of IMG-sposnsored media training and appeared in a series of television commercials that gave him a chance to put his dry wit on display. But Duval's new high-gloss sheen cracked in the glare of the spotlight at the Masters, and he reverted to his media-phobic ways.
Following his second-round 65 at Augusta, Duval turned prickly when asked a benign question about his relations with the press. "I'm sorry I don't give you a highlight reel all the time," he said, when in fact he had just played what would turn out to be the low round of the tournament by two strokes. "I've always believed when people ask me a question, they want an answer, not a story. I'm sorry to disappoint you. Maybe we'll try again tomorrow."
On Sunday, Duval was asked about the five-iron shot he hit into the creek at 13, which was not unlike the four-iron he dumped into the pond at 11 during the final round of the '99 Masters, which, in turn, stirred memories of '98, when he was leading the tournament by three strokes with three holes to play before a three-putt at the 16th hole opened the door for Mark O'Meara. This time Duval was churlish and sullen in the face of relentless prodding, and as he squirmed, it was hard not to think of poor Charlie Croker being raked over the coals by the bankers to whom he owed millions.
As part of his preparation for this Masters, Duval remade his physique to the point where he brings to mind the powerfully built Croker, the "Sixty-Minute Man," a former two-way gridiron star so enamored of his muscles that he struts around like a peacock in full feather. Physical armor, however, can't hide the insecurities, doubts and fears that lurk within. Despite his accomplishments, is it possible that Duval is really a loser at heart? He endured nearly three winless years at the outset of his Tour career, replete with numerous final-round horror shows. The burst of 11 victories in 18 months that followed was an awesome unleashing of pent-up will and frustration, but Duval now looks less like that player than the overwhelmed youngster of so many lost Sundays.
At the end of A Man in Full, Croker finds peace with the guidance of an escaped con spouting philosophy from an ancient text. Duval has turned to an equally unlikely source: sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Duval has always been a lone wolf, scornful of outsiders, especially the shrinks and swing doctors who have befuddled so many players. For Duval to lean heavily on Rotella is either an expansion in his thinking or, more likely, a measure of his desperation.
Duval has read enough books to know that not every story has a tidy ending. Once upon a time the most impervious player in golf, Duval seems, more than ever, a man unfulfilled.