For most of last week's Tour Championship, the 1997 season
refused to be neatly summed up. The PGA Tour's most important
story lines were unresolved: Who would be the leading money
winner? Who would be the player of the year? What would be the
final pecking order among the top players? The whole plot was a
tangled mess until David Duval sorted it out with his third win
in a row.
Midway through the season the best bet in golf was that Masters
champion Tiger Woods, who went over $1 million in earnings way
back in May, would not only cruise to the money crown but also
would be the player of the year. He almost let both titles slip
away at Champions Golf Club in Houston, where the top 30 on the
Tour's money list played for $4 million. With six holes to play
on Sunday, Davis Love III held a two-stroke lead. If he could
have held on, Love would have passed Woods on the money list
and, with three victories and an edge in the popularity
department, might have won player of the year honors in the vote
by his peers.
Woods can thank Duval for scuttling that possible turn of
events. Duval made a 40-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 13th
hole to catch Love at 11 under par, and then, while Love was
stumbling home with two bogeys to finish third, Duval scrambled
for gutsy pars on the final two holes to shoot 68 and edge
runner-up Jim Furyk by a stroke.
With wins in his last three starts, which have come over four
weeks, the 26-year-old Duval has transformed himself in the
public's eye. A month ago he was viewed as the best U.S. player
not to make the Ryder Cup team, mainly because in his three
years on the Tour he had finished second seven times. People
were whispering, though, about the fact that he had never won.
Now they're wondering when he will lose. If he should prevail in
the opening event of the '98 season, the Mercedes Championships
at Carlsbad, Calif., in January, Duval will become the first man
since Jackie Burke Jr. in 1952 to win four Tour events in a row.
Duval just might do it, if for no other reason than the hype is
unlikely to get to him. On Sunday night someone evoked Byron
Nelson's record 11-win streak of 1945 by asking Duval, "Three
down and eight to go?" Puzzled, Duval answered, "For what?"
The other players have changed their opinion of Duval, too. "A
lot of people talked about how he couldn't finish," says Love.
"He's proved in the last month that he can and will be able to
for a long time." What most impressed Love, who played in the
group behind Duval in the final round, was how he handled
adversity on the par-4 17th hole. Off the tee Duval pushed what
he called a High Plains Drifter deep into trees. He pitched out
40 yards short of the green, wedged to within 12 feet from thick
bermuda rough, then made the crucial putt. "That," said Love,
"was an all-world up and down."
The putt was similar to ones Duval made last month to win
playoffs at the Michelob Championship in Williamsburg, Va., and
at the Disney Classic in Orlando. "I look forward to having
those now," he says. "When I'm standing over the ball, it
doesn't enter my mind that I'm going to miss."
Duval is careful not to overanalyze his success. He has lost
more than 30 pounds as a result of a fitness regimen he began
last year but is stronger and says he feels "more like an
athlete." He has also taken a more conservative approach inside
the ropes, minimizing the sorts of mistakes that in the past led
to painful losses. His father, Bob, a rookie on the Senior tour,
has another explanation. "He started thinking, My dad's going to
pass me on the money list," he says. "I think that got him
going." In fact, before David's first win of the streak, he led
his dad in earnings by $171,857, with $616,308. His three
victories more than tripled his winnings to $1.89 million. (He
won $720,000 on Sunday.)
Money is always a hot topic at the Tour Championship. Coming
into Houston, the only players who had a shot at wresting the
money title from Woods were Love and Justin Leonard. Woods
reportedly needed to top the money list to collect a $3 million
bonus from Titleist, but during a poor second half of the season
he had let Leonard and Love, winners of the British Open and the
PGA, respectively, close the gap. "Tiger's mental game is his
greatest strength, but as the year has gone on it has become a
weakness," says Butch Harmon, Woods's swing coach. "He has been
making bad shot selections, getting angry and impatient and
putting with a poor attitude."
On Sunday, Woods played with resolve and shot 69, but on the
72nd green he missed a five-footer for par that would have
locked up the money title. As Woods signed his card, Love had
the lead, and Woods was hanging his head. An hour later he was
celebrating Duval's victory--and his own. "The money title and
player of the year were goals I set at the beginning of the
year," Woods said. "When David won, it was pure excitement.
That's not the way I wanted to come out on top, but it still
means a lot."
Woods wound up winning a record $2,066,833 and became the first
Tour player to make more than $2 million in a season (something
Hale Irwin also accomplished this year on the Senior tour).
Duval finished second on the money list, followed by Love ($1.64
million), Furyk ($1.62 million) and Leonard ($1.59 million). In
all, 18 players won more than $1 million, twice as many as in
any previous season. Perhaps more important, four of the top
five this year are 27 or younger. (Love is the old man at 33.)
"You look at the list, and it's all the studs of the year," says
Duval, who not long ago would have been considered one of this
As usual, the Tour Championship had put everyone in his place.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Duval, accused of folding under pressure, has sweated out two playoff wins and a one-shot victory. [David Duval golfing]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Stalked by Leonard (above) and Love, Woods clinched the money title despite a disappointing finish. [Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods]