Golf: Duval crowned the new `Mr 59'

American tour bows to the historic round of the iceman who caught fire in the desert. By Andy Farrell
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The Independent Online
DAVID DUVAL is not known for impersonations of Seve Ballesteros in his celebration routines. The first eight victories of the 27-year- old American's career were met with a virtually imperceptible nod of a head hidden away under a baseball cap and wrap-around sunglasses. The ninth, however, on Sunday brought jigging and arm-pumping from the imperturbable one to match the historic nature of the occasion. Now we know what gets Duval excited.

Duval had just returned a round of 59. To break 60 in competition is the Holy Grail for tournament professionals. To do so in the final round to win had never been done before. When Duval holed out with a six-foot eagle putt at the last hole at PGA West, he still had to wait and see if Steve Pate could force a play-off.

Pate had two holes to play but parred in to finish one behind. Ordinarily, his closing 66 would have been good enough for victory but this was no ordinary Sunday afternoon in the California desert. As he waited to see if extra holes would be necessary, Duval even made a rare public lapse into humour. Asked if he would be going to the range to prepare for a possible play-off, Duval replied: "Yeah, I really need to work on my game."

Al Geiberger became the original "Mr 59" when he broke 60 for the first time on the US PGA Tour at the Memphis Classic in 1977. Geiberger went on to win the tournament, but Chip Beck, when he repeated the feat at the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, did not.

Unlike Duval, however, Geiberger shot his 59 in the comfort zone of the second round and Beck in the third of a five-round event. Duval was also playing in a 90-hole tournament in which the pros were accompanied by stars such as Michael Jordan and Samuel L Jackson in the first four rounds.

On Sunday, it was down to the professionals and after rounds of 70, 71, 64 and 70, Duval got down to business. The details of the round are as staggering as his accuracy with each and every club.

After being 13 under for the first four rounds, he was 13 under for the final 18 holes. He had 11 birdies and an eagle, leaving just six pars. The scorecard shows one five, seven fours, six threes and four twos. He birdied all but one of the five par-threes and on the five par-fives, he collected three birdies and that closing eagle. He holed all 13 of the first putts he faced from 10 feet or inside.

All this came on the 6,950-yard Arnold Palmer course at PGA West and in a tournament, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, named after another great icon of American life. Hope was there at the end to congratulate Duval but the golfer had not set out with expectation. "I was way behind and in a position that I couldn't win the golf tournament," Duval said. He started seven behind the overnight leader, Fred Funk. "I played an exceptional round of golf, something that doesn't happen very often. I had to shoot 59 and I did."

Duval started by hitting a wedge approach to five feet at the first, got up and down at the par-five second and hit a six-iron to three feet at the short third. The three birdies were followed by a two-putt from 15 feet for a par at the fourth before he also birdied the par-three fifth. He proceeded with three pars, his only mistake coming at the eighth. He missed the green with a sand wedge shot but chipped to six feet and holed the putt to save par.

The ninth brought a straightforward birdie and he was out in 31. Before his winning streak began 16 months ago, Duval's scoring average for the final round was well in excess of that for the first three rounds. Sundays were the day he fell off the bottom of the leaderboard. This time he exploded off the top.

After not winning in his first 86 starts on the US tour, Duval has now won nine of his last 28. Three more birdies followed at the start of the back nine. He holed four-footers at both the 10th and 11th and then from half that distance at the shot 12th.

The longest putt he missed was a 12-footer for birdie at the 13th, but he tapped in for par and, after driving into a bunker at the par-five next, holed from 10 feet for a birdie-four. His mastery of the par-threes was completed by his eight iron at the 156-yard 15th to 18 inches while his sand-wedge approach at the 16th finished six inches away.

Duval now led by one from Pate, who would also birdie the 16th, but was thinking about the 59. "I thought birdies at the last two would do it," he said. His tee shot at the short 17th finished 20 feet from the hole and he had to make the five-footer back for par. But he still had the par-five last to come and, after a perfect drive, Duval needed no more than a five-iron to cover the 219 yards over the water and up to the top tier of the green. "I was a little juiced," he explained. The six-foot putt never looked like missing.

"Gee, I wonder why?" Duval said when asked about his untypical reaction. "I'm kidding. Oh, yeah, I was more excited about the score than having a chance to win the golf tournament. I certainly had aspirations of winning, but the 59 was first and foremost in my mind. It was kind of a double bonus."

Duval is now 52 under par for nine rounds of golf in 1999 and has won both the tournaments he has entered, earning $1,008,000 (pounds 610,0000) and with a skiing holiday sandwiched in between. The win took him to No 2 in the world, a whisker behind Tiger Woods, and the pair will be scrapping for the top spot over the next few weeks.

His streak can be compared to Lee Westwood's 10 wins in 13 months. Westwood's victories came all around the globe, Duval's all on the circuit where it is hardest for one player to dominate. What both men need now are major championships.

About the only person not concerned that he did not win Player of the Year last season after topping the money list was Duval himself, aside from the winner, Mark O'Meara. "Statistically, I may have been the player of the year, but not historically," Duval said.

"I have told everybody before I certainly want to be the best at some point in my career, and if I am considered that now, I am flattered and excited. But I still have to keep trying to improve. I have got to keep trying to get better and try to add some US Opens and PGAs and such to my resume."


1st (426 yards, par-4): Driver, pitching wedge, 5-foot putt Birdie 3

2nd (514 yards, par-5): Driver, 4-iron, chip, 3-foot putt Birdie 4

3rd (180 yards, par-3): 6-iron, 3-foot putt Birdie 2

4th (396 yards, par-4): 2-iron, 9-iron, 2-putt from 15 feet Par 4

5th (233 yards, par-3): 5-iron, 5-foot putt Birdie 2

6th (562 yards, par-5): Driver, 5-iron, sand wedge, 2-putt from 30 feet

Par 5

7th (439 yards, par-4): 2-iron, 7-iron, 2-putt from 40 feet Par 4

8th (358 yards, par-4): 3-wood, sand wedge, chip, 6-foot putt Par 4

9th (451 yards, par-4): 3-wood, 8-iron, 8-foot putt Birdie 3

10th (453 yards, par-4): 3-wood, sand wedge, 4-foot putt Birdie 3

11th (512 yards, par-5): Driver, 4-iron, pitching wedge, 4-foot putt

Birdie 4

12th (207 yards, par-3): 6-iron, 2-foot putt Birdie 2

13th (447 yards, par-4): 3-wood, 7-iron, 2-putt from 12 feet Par 4

14th (569 yards, par-5): Driver into bunker, 5-iron, sand-wedge, 10-foot putt Birdie 4

15th (156 yards, par-3): 8-iron, 18-inch putt Birdie 2

16th (364 yards, par-4): 2-iron, sandwedge, 6-inch putt Birdie 3

17th (130 yards, par-3): 9-iron, 2-putt from 20 feet Par 3

18th (543 yards, par-5): Driver, 5-iron, 6-foot putt Eagle 3

TOTAL (out 31, in 29, 13 under) 59