Duval's masterful approach

Golf: Riding an almost unparalleled hot streak, but with his ego under control, the world's No. 1 player likes his chances for a first at Augusta.


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tigermania has quieted, almost to a whisper. Greg Norman is an afterthought, three years and one major shoulder operation removed from the most heartbreaking of his many defeats here at Augusta National.

Having recently passed Woods as the No. 1 player in the world rankings, David Duval will be looking to do something he has yet to accomplish in a remarkable streak that has now produced 11 victories in his past 34 tournaments.

In going for his third victory in as many weeks, Duval will try to win his first major championship when play begins tomorrow in the 63rd Masters. He seems to be looking forward to the challenge.

"I think it's a matter of time," Duval, 27, said during a news conference yesterday. "That goes to just realizing that to win a golf tournament, things have to be going well for you.

"When majors are only happening four times a year, a lot of stuff has to come together in a given four days for that to happen. I think it will happen. How quickly, I don't know. I think I'm prepared for it."

Just as eight second-place finishes readied Duval for his first tour victory toward the end of his third season -- the 1997 Michelob Championship -- what he has done since has made him the player to beat this week.

With Woods having won only twice in the same period of time and with Norman not fully recovered from the surgery that forced him to miss most of last season, Duval has managed something that neither Woods nor Norman could do.

Last week's victory in the BellSouth Classic, which followed his win in The Players Championship, made Duval the first player since Johnny Miller in 1974 to win four tournaments in the same year before the Masters.

"I don't think about it really," Duval said of his hot streak, which also includes a final-round 59 in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. "Each tournament is a new start, a new chance. I feel like I'm capable of winning out here. However, knowing the abilities of my peers, I would not expect to win that often."

It is a different persona from the one Norman carried around during the stretch between 1993 and 1995, when he won nine tournaments around the world, including five on the PGA Tour and the only major of his star-crossed career, the 1993 British Open.

"I felt like you walk to the first tee and you feel like, `Who's going to finish second this week?' " Norman, 44, said yesterday. "And that's not from pure arrogance or egotistical. The pure confidence. You can see that from David right now."

Norman might be able to, but Duval's ego is as subtle as the wry sense of humor that can be found beneath his outwardly boring personality. He is, in many ways, the anti-Tiger.

But those wraparound shades and blank game face hide a killer instinct.

"I do think that if I'm ready to play and I go out and play well and think well, I'll have a chance to win," said Duval. "I just don't assume I'm going to win. I don't think having a big ego and being real brash serves you well. I don't think I have that."

Duval considers Woods, 23, among his friends on tour, the two having been teammates on the U.S. team in last year's Presidents Cup defeat in Australia.

Duval sees what the weight of huge expectations did to Woods after he won the Masters.

It was what Woods did during his phenomenal rookie season, which included his history-making, record-breaking victory here two years ago, that inspired Duval to work on his conditioning, both physical and mental.

And now it's Duval who seems to have fired up Woods, who is looking to turn this into a true rivalry rather than a manufactured one. For now, it's as one-sided as it was when Woods dominated the tour.

"Certainly, I'd embrace it if that came to pass," said Duval. "But I think it's hard to say that we have a rivalry right now. I think the big reason you can't put the rivalry label on it yet is because he and I haven't come down to the last nine holes here or some other major event."

Asked what it's like to be No. 2, Woods said: "I think it's fun. It's part of the game. You have to understand you can't play well all the time. All these players can win out here. If you're not on your game that week, usually you're not going to win."

Part of Duval's learning curve came here last year. Holding a three-shot lead going into the 16th hole on Sunday, Duval played his tee shot on the par-3 hole a little too conservatively.

He wound up three-putting for bogey from just off the green, opening the door for Mark O'Meara, who had just birdied the 15th. O'Meara birdied the last two holes, beating Duval and Fred Couples by a stroke.

"In hindsight, at 16 you could say I made a poor decision," Duval said yesterday. "At the time, I think I would have been told I made the proper decision. I wasn't trying to hit there on the right. If it rolls down toward the hole, that's fine."

Had his ball rolled back toward the pin, which it normally does, Duval might have won the Masters. And who knows what would have happened? He certainly would have been proclaimed a star then and there.

It is a concept Duval still has a difficult time grasping.

"I might be in the process of becoming a golf star or whatever you want to call it, but I'm not like Tiger in the sense that he's a star," said Duval. "He's outside the game. I don't feel that way. And I don't feel I ever will."

63rd Masters

When: Tomorrow through Sunday

Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

Who: Defending champion Mark O'Meara leads a field that includes former champion Tiger Woods and David Duval, the No. 1 player in the world.

Purse: Prize money totals $3.2 million, with $576,000 to the champion.

TV: Tomorrow and Friday: USA, 4 p.m.; Saturday: Ch. 13, 3: 30 p.m.; Sunday: Ch. 13, 4 p.m.

Pub Date: 4/07/99

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