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Wrong Answer ...if you said David Duval's playoff loss at Westchester makes him less of a threat to win his first major at this week's U.S. Open

The answer man will now respond to your questions. Fire when

Hey, Answer Man, I was watching the Buick Classic on TV when ABC
switched to some kiddie flick in the middle of the playoff
between David Duval and Dennis Paulson. What did I miss?

No doubt millions of children couldn't wait another minute to see
Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, the Disney movie
scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern, so ABC honchos flipped the playoff
to the Deuce, ESPN2. You missed the third extra hole, where
Duval's 40-footer for birdie got a big thumbs-up from Paulson,
who then made a little whirlybird motion after his own birdie try
took a victory lap around the edge of the cup before dropping.
After that, you didn't miss much. The finish was anticlimactic.
Duval three-jacked the next hole, the par-4 17th, and Paulson won
with a routine par.

What's with Duval, Answer Man? Forget about his problems in the
majors. He hasn't won anything in 14 months, and now he gets beat
by some guy whose only claim to fame is that he used to be the
long-drive champ. Duval's 59 seems like ages ago. Is he washed

Did we watch the same tournament? I left Westchester Country Club
thinking that Duval and Tiger Woods are the guys to beat this
week at Pebble Beach. Duval played the kind of final round at
Westchester that wins U.S. Opens. He missed only one green on the
back nine. If he makes any putts at all--such as the 18-footer for
birdie the first time he played the 17th, which was in all the
way--he wins. The putter has been a problem for him this year, but
he had to be conservative on Westchester's fast and weavy greens.
"I feel like I'm swinging the club better than I have in months,"
Duval says, "and I feel like me again putting."

Duval's only uncharacteristic round last week came on Thursday,
when he made seven birdies but finished with only a one-under 70.
His total of 19 birdies for the tournament was second only to
Sergio Garcia's 20. You don't rack up 19 birdies without rolling
your rock. Don't be fooled. Duval is as intent on winning the
Open as he was on winning the Masters, and just as confident as
he was in Augusta when he said, "This tournament is mine to
lose." He has had a second, three thirds, a fourth and a fifth
this year. Winning isn't as easy as Woods makes it look. Washed
up? Duval looks primed to me.

Is Duval the stuck-up jerk he's made out to be?

No, he's just honest to a fault. For instance, on Sunday evening,
after a long, emotional day, he was asked how he felt about
Paulson's first Tour victory. Typically, Duval told it like it
is. "I just got beat in a playoff eight minutes ago," he said,
"so my tone is going to sound bitter and unhappy. It's not like
I've had a cooling-off period to take a step back and digest how
well I've played this week. It's almost eight o'clock, I just got
beat and I'm not happy about it." Duval could field questions
more diplomatically, but he shouldn't be criticized for giving
honest answers.

So who is this Paulson guy, anyway?

He's a 37-year-old Californian who grew up in San Diego and
attended San Diego State. He and his wife, Linda, have a
three-year-old boy, Dillon, and are building a house in
Encinitas, not far from the La Costa Resort and Spa. Obviously,
Paulson's a late bloomer. Yes, he won the national long-drive
championship 15 years ago, but he has other credentials. Paulson
is one of those people who have spent a dozen years becoming an
overnight success. He turned pro in 1985 but didn't get through Q
school until '93, on his ninth try. He has been on and off the
Tour ever since, playing in state opens, in Asia and on the tour between starts on the big stage. He finally broke
through last year, when he lost a playoff to Duffy Waldorf at
Westchester but went on to finish 27th on the money list. You
also probably noticed that he was the first-round leader this
year at the Masters.

Paulson has game beyond his driver, although his 278.9-yard
average off the tee last week (he bombed one drive 388 yards),
fifth-best in the field, was mighty impressive. He ranked eighth
in putting last year, and all you had to see to understand why
were two clutch putts he made on Sunday. We already talked about
the one he made on top of Duval's birdie during the playoff, but
the putt Paulson sank on the 72nd hole was even better. He had
botched his chip for eagle, sending it 30 feet past the hole and
down a ridge. When he jammed in that putt, he had caught Duval at
eight under. Paulson punched the air after his ball disappeared
and shouted, "Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about!"

One other thing about Paulson. He's hungry. "It's great to win
one," he said, "and I don't want to take anything away from the
guys who have won only one tournament, but that's not getting the
job done. There are 50 guys who won once and don't play anymore.
I don't want that to be me."

I was beginning to think that the only thing more overhyped than
Sergio Garcia was that TV movie about Paul and Linda McCartney.
Then Sergio almost wins at Westchester, coming in third. What's
your take on El Nino?

The 20-year-old Garcia is still a work in progress, but
impressive nonetheless. Garcia played the best 18 holes of the
week--his last nine on Saturday and his first nine on Sunday
added up to 63, which was how he burst into contention after
barely making the cut. (On Friday he was three over going to the
final hole, where he nearly holed a 73-yard wedge shot. If he
hadn't made birdie, he would've been down the road.) Garcia has
struggled with his putting and his swing all year. He hit some
sweet shots on Sunday at Westchester, driving two par-4s, the
326-yard 7th hole and the 314-yard 10th. He also showed his
immaturity by firing at too many flags, under the conditions.
For example, though his approach was six inches from perfection
at the 8th hole, where the pin was cut front right, he ended up
in a bunker. You've got to know when shooting for the middle of
the green is the smart play.

Garcia let a few remarks by some fans (this is New York,
remember) get to him after he had missed an eagle putt at 10. He
was still ahead by three, which is not the time to be growing
rabbit ears. His ultimate downfall came at the 17th, where he
blew a lob wedge over the green--a distance-control boo-boo a
pro cannot make--and made bogey. Tuck this number away, though:
Garcia hit almost 77% of the fairways. That's the mark of a ball
striker who can compete in the majors.

Who was the biggest surprise at the Buick Classic?

Greg Norman, by a mile. Just when I thought he would be off
tending to his vineyard or to his new yacht-building business, he
makes a trademark weekend charge. Despite a bogey on the 71st
hole, he came in fourth, only two shots out of the playoff. Two
stats on Norman: He's 45, and the Buick was his first top 10
finish since last year's British Open.

What was the most memorable shot of the week?

There were two of them, and they were both made by Phil
Mickelson. The first came on Friday from the thick rough beside
the 7th green. Mickelson tried one of his flop shots, but his
ball sailed over the green into an even worse position. That's
the first time I've seen him do that. On Saturday, after an ugly
double bogey at the par-3 16th, he holed an 88-yard wedge shot
from the 17th fairway for eagle to instantly get the two strokes
back and remain in contention for his fourth victory of the year.
He didn't get it, of course. He hit only 10 greens in regulation
on Sunday, shot a 75 and came in 13th.

I thought the U.S. Open wasn't until this week, but I swear I saw
ankle-high rough at the Buick, Tour players chopping around the
greens like my Saturday-morning foursome and balls bouncing off
the greens with what I can only describe as a trampoline effect.
Is my schedule wrong, Answer Man?

Nope. Tournament officials like to set up Westchester, a fabulous
old track in suburban New York with huge trees and steep hills,
like an Open course. That means lots of rough and firm greens.
Because the Buick Classic is a Mini-Me Open, it usually attracts
a lot of good players looking to tune up for the real thing.
"There's not a better course on Tour that we can play the week
before the Open--it sets up so similarly," says Paulson.

The gusting winds and sizzling heat made Westchester's back nine
delightfully wicked over the weekend. The 11th through 17th holes
were a manly test of shotmaking. The top 10 finishers combined
for a mere eight birdies on that seven-hole stretch on Sunday,
and one of those birdies came with an asterisk. Duval pulled his
drive into the trees at the 11th but got a break when his ball
ricocheted back into the fairway, from where he knocked an iron
shot close. The 12th hole, a nasty 476-yard par-4 that the
members play as a par-5, yielded 12 birdies all week. As Waldorf
says, "Westchester has a way of dealing out pain." He should
know. He had a one-shot lead after 54 holes but was hurtin' on
Sunday, when he shot 76 to also come in 13th.

If Westchester is so good at re-creating Open conditions, why
don't they just go ahead and hold one there?

At 6,722 yards, the course is too short. Chris Perry says that by
his count Westchester calls for up to 15 shots of 150 yards or
less. There are two drivable par-4s as well as a par-3 of only
133 yards. Besides, the USGA has too many other options in the
New York area. The Open has already been held at Shinnecock Hills
and Winged Foot, and will be played at Bethpage Black, out on
Long Island, in 2002.

Who do you like this week, Answer Man?

I love Pebble Beach. The Open is the one week the course always

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Primed time Duval made a flock of birdies at the Buick Classic and played the kind of final round that usually wins Opens.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Heavy hitters Brilliant at times, Garcia (top) also showed his age, while Mickelson made a memorable mishit.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACQUELINE DUVOISIN Trick or tree Westchester was an excellent Open prep for pros like Ernie Els.