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Rating a Revival

The golfing public's view of David Duval has changed the second time around

You've probably heard of the Zagat restaurant guides. Did you know there's a Zagat guide to golf courses, too? Joe Passov, the GOLF MAGAZINE and travel guru, is one of its editors. Courses in the guide are reviewed and rated by regular, anonymous paying customers in layman's language and in four categories on a 0-to-30 scale. A grade of 20 is very good, and 30 represents perfection. In the published guide there are quoted, linked snippets from the reviews, and above them are the average numerical grades in each category.

There's no word on when, if ever, Zagat will start publishing fan guides to professional golfers. But in the meantime, and inspired by Zagat, we here at the British Open Preview Department at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED GOLF PLUS offer this review of the resurgent David Duval. The comments were culled from more than 40 e-mails posted on last week in response to a query asking about the game's most opaque player and winner of the 2001 British Open, plus the musings of some other sources even closer to home. Speaking of which: The numerical ratings (right) are strictly our own. Bon appetit!

This former world No. 1 lost his game "to say the least" and fell to 882nd coming into last month's U.S. Open at Bethpage, where he tied for second. A major win would be regarded as "the biggest golf comeback story ever." In '01, when Duval won the British Open at Royal Lytham, he was, a respondent notes, a "mystery behind welding glasses." Duval's long-standing habit of wearing shades provokes many people, even his fans. One reader describes Duval's ubiquitous glasses as "Terminator wraparounds." Another says, "He seems smug, and I hate those Oakleys. Can someone please get the guy a sponsorship with Maui Jim or something?" As a subject of interest, Duval's sunglasses will not quit. Another reviewer notes, "You can't root for a guy with no eyes." And another says Duval won him over only after taking off the wraparounds upon winning at Lytham.

Draw more shades: Duval is often credited with being "his own person" and a "groundbreaker" as one of the first Tour pros to wear wraparound sunglasses on the course. In that regard he "paved the way" for both "New Age golfers" such as Annika Sorenstam and traditionalists like Davis Love III, Duval's close friend and "snowboarding buddy."

While fans tend to ignore Love's shades and focus more on his "Polo uniform" and press affability, Duval's treatment is generally the opposite. Fans question his "high-tech garb" and dealings with the media. One reporter notes he could "listen to Double D all day long" and says Duval's candor years ago about Ryder Cup money going everywhere except to the players "was a breath of fresh air." But a longtime director of Tour events counters that Duval is "always wary" of the press. Some balanced reporting would likely help Duval: One citizen reporter on points out that Duval wears sunglasses because of "pollen allergies."

Duval will play in next week's British Open at Turnberry, a course he has never played. He skipped the Open in 2005 and '07 because of his "downfall" and back, neck and wrist injuries. Majors clearly motivate him. He played in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, in the midst of his slump, and finished 16th, prompting one reader to say, "I think DD wins another major before he wins a regular Tour event."

This year marks 20 years in the public eye for the winner of the 1989 U.S. Junior, but recent years have been spent "in his quagmire," during which Duval sought "blue-chip help," including David Leadbetter for his swing and Bob Rotella for his head. With the "possible exception of Ian Baker-Finch," no elite golfer in modern times has "fallen so far so fast."

In recent years Duval has returned home and sought the advice of Puggy Blackmon, his former Georgia Tech coach. Blackmon notes that "David has only one real teacher," namely his father, former club pro Bob Duval, and that Blackmon's role "is to show David tapes" from his vast collection. Blackmon says that Duval's "rhythm looks better now" because his swing "is more technically sound" and has "fewer moving parts." Blackmon also comments that Duval is "healthier now than he has been in years" in body and mind and that he has "found his true soul mate" in his wife, Susie Persichette.

One writer notes that Duval's Bethpage play "didn't come from nowhere," citing Duval's 66 and 69 in a sectional qualifying event while wearing "long plaid shorts, dark ankle socks and white shoes," proof that "he's more like us than them." After years with Tour caddie Mitch Knox on the bag, Duval now employs longtime friend Jeff Webber, with whom Duval "appears to be exceedingly comfortable."

After his glasses, the most popular subject for Duval's fans and detractors is his weight, which goes "up and down like an elevator in the Sears Tower." In his chiseled prime, Duval was "six even and a buck eighty" with, Blackmon says, "Nicklaus's legs, Norman's upper body and Hogan's head." At Tour stops back then Duval spent "more time in the gym than on the range." He was "pudgy" as a kid and has returned "to his youthful ways." To many observers his "rounder bod" has made him "more approachable."

Monday at Bethpage was "extraordinary" because Duval had "as much fan support" as Phil Mickelson did. And while love for Duval is by no means universal—various respondents call him "aloof," "unfriendly," "an enigma" and "a jerk in victory and defeat"—many others are rooting for him passionately, praising him as a "class act" and a "poster boy for guts, determination and indomitable desire." Several note the triple bogey he made on the 3rd hole in the final round at Bethpage, but also point out that he was a shot off the lead while standing on the 17th tee. Many recall Duval's quote after the U.S. Open: "I had no question in my mind I was going to win the tournament today."

Some see Duval, an avid reader of novels, as a potential "hero in his own narrative." One respondent writes that "people just like seeing someone come back like he has—it's part of the American Dream and fitting in these times we're in." Another notes that "it's a shame he had to fall so far professionally before people rallied around his cause. That says something about the public. But the beautiful thing is that I don't think David Duval cares what we think about him. I hope he wins again."

Another Golf.commer posts a virtual haiku: "Before: machine, hidden, emotionless. Now: tempered through suffering, passionate, open and approachable." And yet another, citing Duval's ability to make fun of himself in an old Nike ad in which he breaks a window on Tiger's car with a golf club, writes, "I hope Duval wins the British."

Now on
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Roger And Him

As he tries to tie his pal Federer, how Tiger fares in the Open hinges on his in-and-out putter

IS THERE a pattern brewing here? Tiger won at Bay Hill in March, went to the Masters for his next event, fought a balky putter, tied for sixth. Tiger won the Memorial in June, went to the U.S. Open for his next event, fought a balky putter, tied for sixth. Last week Tiger won his own event at Congressional and he'll play his next event next week at the British Open and there he will ... do what exactly?

Fight a balky putter and tie for sixth?

Fight a balky putter and win his fourth British Open, this time by a shot?

Putt like his old self and win by six?

At Congressional, in the AT&T National, Tiger had one absolutely must-make putt coming down the stretch. Hunter Mahan was in the house at 12 under par. Tiger, in the last twosome with Anthony Kim, was 20 feet from the par-5 16th hole in three shots. He had made birdies at 16 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. His chances for birdie at 17 and 18 were far slimmer. He was playing a U.S. Open course and standing on a U.S. Open green in the backyard of the U.S. capital, playing in the name of every man and woman who has ever served in the U.S. military, his late father, Earl, among them. The stakes were high. The putt was slow and uphill with about six inches of left-to-right break. His ball knocked on the front door and let itself right in. Game over. Two pars later Tiger had won the 68th title of his PGA Tour career.

Woods will go to Turnberry looking for his 15th major title and also looking to tie his friend Roger Federer in career majors. Woods has never been to Turnberry, but he's watched tapes of the epic Jack Nicklaus--Tom Watson showdown in 1977, won by Watson. The game's history—and sports history in general—motivates Woods like it does no golfer since Nicklaus. If Woods figures out the unique lines of the Turnberry course quickly, and if he has a good putting week, and if he doesn't get a bad break with Scotland's fickle and often-changing weather, it's easy to imagine Woods raising the claret jug on British Open Sunday. Very easy.

Turnberry's greens are not as flat as the courts at Wimbledon, but neither are they severe. They have more slope than most British Open greens but are far flatter than the greens at Augusta National or even Bethpage Black, which are not particularly undulating. The fact is, with better putting weeks, Woods could have won the year's first two majors. British Open greens tend to be much slower than American parkland greens, but the weather at Turnberry in recent weeks has been unusually sunny and warm, which should yield fast, smooth greens. The fact is, when your putting stroke is mechanically close to perfect, and there's not much break to read, and the greens are fast and smooth, you'll make more putts.

Well, maybe you won't. But Tiger will.

Double D's Rating






Photograph by ROBERT BECK

KEEPING THE FAITH Before tying for second at Bethpage, Duval had missed the cut in 22 of his last 33 starts.



FREE PASS Soldiers, like Brendan Marrocco, and kids got into Tiger's tournament gratis and helped set attendance records.


Photograph by ROBERT BECK

RARE SIGHT Duval, who was sans sunglasses while hoisting the claret jug in '01, has had only one real coach—his father, Bob.