All eyes on Tiger

Duval anxious to end Woods' dominance

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

TULSA, Okla. -- The longest hole in U.S. Open history didn't faze David Duval.

A booming drive on the 642-yard fifth hole at Southern Hills disappeared against a hot, hazy sky and landed behind a fairway bunker, coming to a stop some 360 yards away.

Isn't this supposed to be a three-shot hole?

''We'll see about that,'' Duval said with a cocky grin as he removed the cover to his 3-wood. The first shot faded right of the green, pin-high. He dropped another ball and hit this one right at the flag, 20 feet behind the hole.

''There,'' he said. ''Now you have something to write about.''

That's better than the usual fodder when it comes to Duval -- a bad back, an injured wrist, another disappointment at the Masters, the only player ever ranked No. 1 who hasn't won a major, another victim in Tiger Woods' incredible run.

The sting from Augusta, where he missed putts of 8, 12 and 5 feet on the final three holes and finished two strokes behind Woods, has not lingered.

Duval arrived at Southern Hills with a nasty cold and a frisky attitude, anxious for another chance at his first major and another opportunity to stop Woods.

What would happen if he and Woods were to play their best this week at the U.S. Open?

''Man, it would be a runaway,'' Duval said, easing into a smile to drive home his point that, while he concedes Woods is a great player, he isn't willing to concede the trophy.

The mission is not his alone.

Of the other 155 players in the field, only two can claim any of the last eight majors played. Woods made it a clean sweep at the Masters, has won five of the last six and needs a victory at Southern Hills to get halfway home to a real Grand Slam.

There was a time when a great career was defined by two or three majors, and anything more was a sure ticket to the Hall of Fame. With Woods grabbing every major in sight, the grading curve has been significantly altered.

That might make even one major for anyone else extra significant.

''It probably does, although the magnitude of it probably won't be judged for 20 years,'' Duval said. ''If I win this golf tournament and Tiger wins the next two, then I'm the only one who has won a major in the last eight. If he ends up getting 20 or 22 majors, over the course of time you've competed against the guy who won the most ever, and is clearly the best ever. That makes it more special.''

That doesn't make it easier to win. The odds of Woods holding the trophy at the end of the week are ludicrous for golf -- even money, essentially Tiger against the field.

Then again, no one else has won lately.

''I think I'm 25-1,'' Duval said with a self-deprecating laugh.

Duval remains the top challenger to Woods, at least in the majors. Phil Mickelson is No. 2 in the world and has won more PGA Tour events than anyone besides Woods the past two years, but he has challenged only once in a major during Woods' great run.

Ernie Els became the first player to be runner-up in three straight majors last year, but he was 15 strokes back at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open and eight strokes behind Woods in the British Open.

Despite an injured back, Duval gave Woods a brief scare at St. Andrews last year by cutting in half a six-stroke deficit over the first eight holes before throwing away shots that didn't matter on the back nine.

And despite tendinitis in his right wrist, causing him to miss four weeks before the Masters, Duval was tied for the lead at certain points on the back nine and in position until a 7-iron flew over the 16th green and led to bogey, and short birdie putts on the final two holes burned the lip of the cup.

Still, he has been there in his last two majors (he missed the PGA Championship with a bad back) and believes there is no reason he can't show up again on Sunday at Southern Hills.

''If I play really good, he'll have a hard time beating me,'' Duval said. ''Why should there be any intimidation? It sounds silly, but we've got a par of 70. We've got 280 strokes to par. If I should get 275, I've got a damn good chance of winning, regardless of who's playing.''

That's not to say Duval doesn't appreciate -- or admire -- what Woods has accomplished, which is unlike anything ever seen in tournament golf. He has won 20 of his last 40 tournaments worldwide, and has not finished worse than a tie for seventh in his last eight major championships.

''Four in a row is unbelievable,'' Duval said. ''We're at a point now where if he gets to five, six, then you're getting beyond the point of comprehension. I think we're right at the ceiling where you go, 'Wait a second -- what's going on here?'''

What's happening is Woods is dominating the majors in a way Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus never did. The challenge for Duval and everyone else is give him a game.



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