PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | Twenty years on, the glow remains for David Duval.
In a confluence of fate, family and fortune, Duval and his father, Bob, won golf tournaments on the same early-spring Sunday, David capturing the Players Championship while his father won the PGA Tour Champion’s Emerald Coast Classic about 350 miles south.
That would have been enough but it was more than that.
It was Bob Duval’s first and only Champions tour victory while for David, the victory pushed him to No. 1 in the world rankings, moving out Tiger Woods, winning a tournament he had attended since he was a child.
“It means as much as any tournament I’ve ever won,” David Duval said.
Duval is at the Players Championship this week, working as an analyst for Golf Channel, extending the arc of his involvement with what was his hometown event.
Growing up, Duval would attend the Players, watching Seve Ballesteros, José María Olazábal and others, often sitting on the back of the practice range, while his father worked in a scoring tent.
An 18-year old in 1990, Duval played in the Players Championship – both unofficially and briefly.
The 36-hole cut left an uneven number of players and Duval was summoned to play as a marker with Joey Sindelar. They made it five holes before another player withdrew and Duval was replaced by the other Tour player.
“I was 1-under through five, I remember that,” Duval said recently.
In 1999, Duval had already won two Tour events – the Mercedes Championship and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic – when he rolled into town for the Players. A four-time winner the previous season, Duval had not yet reached No. 1 in the world because the rankings formula at the time was based on a three-year window (it’s now two years).
That would change after the Players Championship.
“I had been playing better than anyone for a year and there was a lot of talk about why I wasn’t No. 1,” said Duval, who was 27 at the time. “But I won and when I woke up that Monday morning, I was No. 1.”
At his best, Duval was relentless and almost flawless. He was probably the game’s best driver, hitting a power fade that was close to automatic. When he began to win after a handful of near misses earlier in his career, Duval became a fearless putter.
“I always admired how David putted because of his aggressive nature,” said former Tour player turned television analyst Paul Azinger. “He putted like Rickie Fowler. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I really admired his ability to get the ball to the hole under pressure.”
“It was a test of survival and handling the pressure of getting through the weekend. It was an incredibly difficult tournament to win.” – David Duval
The week before the ’99 Players Championship, David and Bob Duval played practice rounds together at the Stadium Course. Duval’s father, 52, had flirted with winning on the senior circuit but hadn’t yet made it happen.
By Saturday night of the Players Championship, both Duvals were position to win the next day and they talked by phone about the possibilities.
“I was excited for him. I wanted him to succeed,” David said. “I told him he was going to be nervous and there was nothing he could do about that.
“He needed to focus on being consistent and hitting greens. Recognize he was nervous and that was okay.”
On Sunday, Bob Duval won the Emerald Coast Classic while his son was still grinding away at the Stadium Course. He had started the final round one stroke ahead of Skip Kendall and Phil Mickelson but the golf course had turned unforgiving.
“We caught it on a year where I’d never seen anything like it and how difficult it played,” Duval said. “It was a test of survival and handling the pressure of getting through the weekend.
“It was an incredibly difficult tournament to win.”
After opening with rounds of 69-69, Duval shot 74-73 on the weekend but it was enough – one stroke better than Scott Gump.
Woods, the top-ranked player in the world, shot 75-75 on the weekend and moved up the leaderboard.
“I wanted it to be really hard, but I don’t know about it being that hard,” Duval said.
Duval was wobbly on the front nine on Sunday and was on the verge of falling out of the lead as he played the par-5 ninth. He’d made the mistake of hitting his second shot lay-up into a fairway bunker with no clear path to the green.
He risked calamity hitting his third shot toward the green, his ball ultimately finishing in a greenside bunker. From there, Duval holed the bunker shot to regain the lead.
“It was the shot before that was more important,” Duval said. “I could pitch out of the fairway bunker or make a potentially stupid play. I hit a wedge through a gap in the trees and pulled it off.
“Had I hit anywhere else, I would have made a double or triple bogey.”
By the time Duval reached the famous par-3 17th, he was clinging to a one-stroke lead. The green was firm and the air was thin as Duval tried to finish off his victory.
He recalled watching Nick Price on the same tee in 1993, making a quick decision and hitting the nerve-calming shot there. Duval did the same thing.
Landing his tee shot on the slope that runs through the middle of the green, Duval watched his ball slide to within 6 feet of the hole, setting up a birdie that gave him a two-stroke cushion playing the last hole.
It was Duval’s third win of the young season, his third straight year with at least three wins, allowing him to join Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson as the only players in the previous 30 years to do that.
“I have been coming to this for years and to be honest, I don’t know if I ever thought I was going to win here,” Duval said that afternoon.
“Obviously I dreamt about it and thought about it; but I am not going to tell you I said I knew I was going to win this golf tournament. I don’t know if I ever thought I would.”
The normally taciturn David Duval reacts to a good shot during the final round of the 1999 Players Championship. Photo: PGA Tour Archives
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