LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- The massive crowd that swallowed up David Duval walking up the 18th fairway in the British Open didn't faze him.
He had seen it all before -- only it was always someone else's party.
Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh at the last two Masters. Woods at St. Andrews last year, when the closest Duval got to the silver claret jug was on the flight home.
On Sunday, a celebration long overdue was all his.
''It's a wonderful experience,'' Duval said Sunday. ''I'd go through it again.''
Duval refused to let the British Open turn into the 18-hole shootout everyone expected, seizing control with a rock-solid game that carried him to a 4-under 67 and gave him the prize that had eluded him the past four years.
He never looked at a leaderboard through those wraparound sunglasses. He didn't have to. Duval always believed he had the mettle to withstand the pressure of golf's sternest test, and the trophy he held aloft was the greatest proof of all.
''I did everything I needed to do,'' he said. ''I feel really good about that.''
The stoic expression hardly ever changed until the last putt fell. Only then did Duval peel off the shades and blink in the bright sunlight over Royal Lytham & St. Annes, finally able to call himself a major champion.
''I don't know if I can savor this any more than I do now,'' he said. ''I imagine what it would do is intensify my desire to do it again.''
Duval finished at 274 for a three-stroke victory over Niclas Fasth of Sweden, the only one among a long list of proven players who sustained any kind of challenge.
Former Masters champion Ian Woosnam might have been one of them. But after nearly making an ace on the opening hole, the Welshman realized he had an extra club in his bag and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
''I did not really get out of my head all the way around,'' Woosnam said. ''Everything seemed to be going against me.''
Haunted by the costly mistake, Woosnam finished with a 71 and was four strokes back at 278 along with five others.
Three of them were major championship winners -- Woosnam, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els.
Duval takes his place among them.
The only player besides Woods to be ranked No. 1 in the past three years, Duval expected to be there all along.
''It's kind of a big relief,'' he said. ''It's so pressure-packed in major championships, and then you put it on a golf course like this, where any minor mistake is magnified and it makes the pressure even greater. You just can't let up, and I didn't let up today.''
He won for the first time this year, and became the sixth American in the past seven years to claim golf's oldest championship.
Caressing the claret jug, Duval scanned the names on the trophy and found his right below Woods.
''When you beat him and the other players on that board, you could look at maybe as how the players felt beating Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson,'' he said. ''They know they've beaten the best player. I beat them all this week, and it feels really good. It feels wonderful.''
Meanwhile, another major championship passed without Woods in serious contention.
Like so many others, Woods couldn't make enough birdies on a firm, fast links course littered with pot bunkers. He took triple bogey on the par-3 12th and wound up nine strokes behind in a tie for 25th, his worst finish in a major in nearly four years.
''I'm not thrilled that I wasn't able to contend down the stretch, but I had my chances out there,'' Woods said after a 71.
He wasn't alone.
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland was at 8-under par and rolling -- until his tee shot rolled into a pot bunker on No. 17 and he took double bogey.
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain also got to 8 under until he fell back with back-to-back bogeys. The only other American to make a move was Billy Mayfair, who finished with eight straight pars and wound up in the group at 278.
All of them had their hands full trying to catch Duval.
From the time Duval holed an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3, then birdied the back-to-back par 5s to take a two-stroke lead, he never gave anyone else much hope.
It certainly didn't start out that way.
This was anyone's Open on a sunny, breezy day off the Lancashire coast. The stage was set for an 18-hole shootout with four co-leaders -- the most at a major in 23 years -- and 28 players within five shots of the lead.
Among them was Woods.
He worked feverishly on the practice range Saturday night to work out the kinks in his swing and appeared positioned for a comeback when he birdied three straight holes and had an 8-foot putt for another on No. 7 that would have put him two behind.
The putt swirled over the lip, and Woods was furious.
His chances vanished for good with a triple bogey on the par-3 12th. After hitting into the waist-high weeds, he flew his next shot over the green and 40 yards down the fairway. His pitch rolled into a pot bunker, and he two-putted for a 6.
Colin Montgomerie, cheered on by a British gallery desperate to see him finally succeed in a major, dropped two shots on the first five holes and never recovered. He finished at 72.
Jesper Parnevik came to Royal Lytham with black-and-white striped pants. It wasn't long before he found himself in jail. He bogeyed the third and fifth holes to fall too far behind, and finished the day behind bars -- the fence down the 18th fairway.
The charge came from an unlikely source.
Fasth earned his PGA Tour card for the '98 season, and in 15 tournaments made just three cuts. His best finish was a tie for 30th.
Teeing off nearly two hours before Duval, Fasth made birdies on four of his first seven holes. When his 10-foot putt dropped on No. 7, he pumped his fist twice, aware that he was in the lead.
Fasth dropped his only stroke on No. 14 when he had to play sideways out of a pot bunker, but he finished strong with four pars.
''I played very well and gave it all I had,'' Fasth said.
He played the final round with Paul Lawrie, who came from 10 strokes down at Carnoustie in 1999 and wound up winning in a playoff after Jean Van de Velde's tragic collapse on the 72nd hole.
Duval had a few shaky moments down the stretch, but nothing that drastic.
He recovered from two drives into the rough, on Nos. 14 and 15, to make par. By then, his name was being etched into the silver trophy.
Duval also had a two-stroke lead with three holes to play in the 1998 Masters, with one big exception. This time, he was the last man on the course. No one could snatch it away, like Mark O'Meara did at Augusta that year with birdies on three of the last four holes.
Duval had two other chances at a green jacket, but couldn't catch Vijay Singh last year or Woods three months ago.
''You get four chances each year, and you have to have a lot of things go right to even get into a position to win,'' he said. ''Then, you have to do it. There's no way around it.''
There was no stopping him.
Gone are the memories of being in the hunt twice at the U.S. Open only to fade away in the third round. Gone is the scene from St. Andrews, where he flailed away hopelessly in the Road Hole bunker with the British Open already in Woods' possession.
Gone, too, are questions whether Duval has what it takes to win a major.
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