Golf: Duval's path to top paved with gold

Andy Farrell on the man who has now officially ended Tiger Woods' 41-week reign as the world's No 1 golfer
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The Independent Online
SO ENDS three months of controversy and arguments over the authenticity of the golf's world rankings. Yesterday came confirmation of what many people have been saying all year, namely that David Duval is the best player in the world. The 27-year-old American ended Tiger Woods' 41-week stay in the No 1 spot. There could have been no more fitting way for Duval to initiate the switch than by winning the Players' Championship, his local tournament, on Sunday evening.

The victory was Duval's 10th in the past 18 months and his third of the season. The pounds 560,000 first prize sent him back to the top of the US money list and it came on the same day that his father, Bob, won his maiden tournament on the Seniors Tour. A resident of nearby Jacksonville Beach, Duval received a hero's welcome on the 18th green.

His up-and-down from the back of the green gave him a closing round of 73, a total of three under and a two-stroke win over the only other man to break par on the Stadium Course for four rounds, Scott Gump. Having twice holed from off the green during his round, it was a magnificent tee shot to six feet on the island green of the 17th hole, and the subsequent birdie putt, that sealed an emotional victory for the usually placid Duval.

"I felt the vibes from the gallery all the way round. Some of the noise was deafening, people were going nuts. This is a wonderful day," Duval said. "This has been a wonderful year, and it is only March. I grew up sitting behind the practice range at this tournament and there are only a couple of others I would rather win. I'm not going to say I always dreamed of winning here because I knew it would be a very, very difficult thing to do."

Only a major title - he was second to Mark O'Meara at the Masters last year - remains absent from Duval's career record. While he describes the Players' as a "near-major", it is a tournament that tends to be won by players who are, or who later become, major champions. The immediate past eight winners all fall into that category and there is no reason to believe the trend will be broken.

Earlier this year, Duval won the Bob Hope Classic in the most dramatic way imaginable, equalling the lowest score on the Tour of 59 in the final round. At the TPC of Sawgrass, Duval gritted out a win against an extremely strong field and on a demanding course.

His 10 wins have come in his last 33 events and it is hard to believe that he once had a reputation for blowing out of the final day. His father could not have sought advice from a better source when he spoke to Duval Jnr on Saturday. "I told him, you'll think about winning all day and there is nothing you can do about it. Don't try and block it out, just try and embrace it."

Thinking about being the world No 1 was not a consideration for Duval, who earlier in the week voiced mild criticisms of the way the rankings work. "It is nice to be ranked No 1," Duval said, "but it is not a concern of mine. I have been playing well for a while and won a lot of tournaments. When I won my ninth [tournament] and didn't get to No 1, I told myself to forget about it and just play golf. But I did set the goal of reaching double-digit wins before the end of the season and I achieved that today."

Woods might have clung onto his crown had he parred the last to finish tied for sixth place. Duval, characteristically, was not about to write off the Tiger era. "I was the best player this week," was his summary.

One look at the severe set-up of the course made Duval feel comfortable, and Lee Westwood took the same approach. The 25-year-old from Worksop, who has won 11 times worldwide in the time Duval has won his 10, was one of those tied for sixth, five behind the winner, after a 73.

While Colin Montgomerie slumped to a closing 79 for the second Sunday running, Westwood battled away in encouraging fashion, progressing up the leaderboard thanks to a level-par back nine. "It's coming back to where I was," he said. "I was rusty at the beginning of the week but I am much more confident now. I need to play a lot, and I have not done that this year, but I also needed the break over the winter."

This time last year, Westwood finished fifth at Sawgrass and then went on to win in New Orleans the following week, but then had a poor Masters. His top-10 finish here meant he was eligible to play in the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta this week, but Westwood will stick to his plans of taking a working holiday in the Bahamas before arriving early at Augusta.

"There was no decision to be made," Westwood said of the chance to tee up again this week. "I will play a couple of rounds but otherwise switch off. I feel I can contend in majors now."

DUVAL STANDARDS

DAVID ROBERT DUVAL

Age: 27.

Born: Jacksonville, Florida; son of US Senior Tour pro, Bob Duval.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

1991: Semi-finalist, British Amateur Championship.

1991: Member of US Walker Cup team.

1993: Turned professional.

1997: First US Tour victory at Michelob championship.

1998: No 1 on US money list with a record $2,591,031 (pounds 1.63m).

1998: US Masters runner-up.

1999: Becomes world No 1 after winning Tournament Players' Championship, Sawgrass. The victory is his 10th in the last 18 months and his third of 1999; at the same time he becomes the 13th player in US Tour history to amass over $8m in total career earnings.

WORLD TOP 20

(US unless stated)

Name Av pts

1 D Duval 12.75

2 T Woods 12.62

3 D Love III 10.33

4 M O'Meara 9.96

5 E Els (SA) 9.15

6 L Westwood (GB) 8.89

7 V Singh (Fiji) 8.85

8 N Price (Zim) 8.33

9 C Montgomerie (GB) 8.22

10 F Couples 7.43

11 J Furyk 7.33

12 J Leonard 6.95

13 M Osaki (Japan) 6.85

14 P Mickelson 6.82

15 J Maggert 5.96

16 D Clarke (GB) 5.64

17 P Stewart 5.62

18 J Parnevik (Swe) 5.61

19 S Elkington (Aus) 5.40

20 T Lehman 5.17

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