Duval, Mickelson so close, yet so distant

Challengers anguish over margin of defeat

The Masters

April 09, 2001|By John Eisenberg | John Eisenberg,SUN COLUMIST

AUGUSTA, Ga. - David Duval looked out at a room filled with reporters after the last round of the Masters yesterday.

"Been here before," he said with a sigh.

Close, in other words. So close to winning his first major title, yet frustrated again in the end.

After Duval's session, Phil Mickelson replaced him in the chair. Same song, second verse.

"I don't know what words to say," he said. "It's very disappointing."

Duval and Mickelson chased Tiger Woods to the last hole at Augusta National, putting up scores that would have obliterated the field and earned a green jacket in almost any other year. Duval made birdies on seven of the first 10 holes yesterday and finished at 14-under-par 274, two shots behind Woods. A missed putt on the final hole kept Mickelson from becoming the first golfer ever to shoot under 70 in all four rounds of the Masters - and he finished third at 13-under.

In the end, Woods won his sixth major at age 25, and Duval, 29, and Mickelson, 30, once again had to play the humbled foils. It's getting old.

"It's not enjoyable sitting here under these circumstances," said Duval, who shot 67 yesterday and finished in the top six for the fourth straight year at the Masters. "I've been in this position before. I got beat by Mark [O'Meara in 1998] and a couple other times I may very well have beaten myself. Today, I didn't do that. I just came up short."

That was the only difference between the two, but it was a major difference. Duval played brilliantly yesterday, streaking from three strokes behind at the start of the round into a tie for the lead with three holes to play. Mickelson, who trailed by a stroke as the round began, wasn't as sharp in the final round, and thus, more despondent.

"Tiger seems to do just what is required, so I think if I had been making a run, he might have followed suit," said Mickelson, who has failed to win a major in 31 tries. "But looking back, I threw so many shots away. I obviously can't afford to do that."

Mickelson threw shots away throughout the tournament, actually, not just in yesterday's round. His 25 birdies over 72 holes were two more than Woods or Duval, but he gave back that edge with eight bogeys and two double bogeys.

"I don't feel that I'm that far off," he said. "But mentally, I'm not there for all 72 holes. I feel like I'm just slacking off on two or three, and just kind of letting momentum take over and not really thinking through each shot, and it's cost me some vital strokes."

Many of his mistakes occurred on Augusta National's famously treacherous greens.

"I was very erratic [putting]," he said. "I didn't feel bad with the putter. I just missed some crucial putts. I actually have been putting pretty well. But the ones I've missed have really stung."

Duval won't have such demons to confront. He did give away two shots over the final three holes, bogeying the par-3 16th after flying the green with his approach shot and then missing a 5-foot putt on No. 18. But Duval will lose no sleep over the 7-iron that cost him on No. 16.

"It might be the best golf shot I ever hit, and I made a 4 [on the hole]," he said. "I don't really have an explanation. I couldn't hit an 8-iron there. Everyone would call me an idiot if I did. I just flew the green."

And made a bogey that cost him the tournament. That's the way it always goes against Woods, who has now won 19 of his past 38 majors and PGA tour events. He always makes the shot and avoids the disaster.

Do Duval and Mickelson ever believe they were born at the wrong time, when a golfer came along to take away a handful of majors they otherwise would have won?

"I think it's how people feel when they were competing against Jack Nicklaus in his prime," Duval said. "We've got another player who is the best in the game right now, and he is certainly an outstanding player, and I think what it will do is make my victories in these majors that much more special."

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