Golf: Winning is all in the mind for Duval

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The Independent Online
UNTIL HE equalled the record low score of 59 on the US tour earlier this year, David Duval's most enjoyable round of golf, he says, came when he scored 20 shots more in the final round of the BellSouth Classic in 1992.

"That 79 was so much fun," he said. "I was a 20-year-old college kid playing with Tom Kite in the final pairing. I set out with a chance to win the tournament, still had a chance to win after three or four holes and then fell apart. But I did see Tom make a lot of birdies and win the tournament."

Seven years later, now not only a professional but the best in the world, Duval won the same title for his 11th victory in his last 34 starts on the US tour. After his Players' Championship win the previous week, Duval has replaced Tiger Woods as both the world No 1 and the favourite for the 63rd US Masters, which starts on Thursday.

Typically, Duval is unfazed. "It doesn't matter if I'm the favourite or not," he insisted. "If I'm the favourite or Tiger is the favourite, no one else in the field cares, so why should I?"

With more than $2.5 million (pounds 1.6m) earned this season, Duval became the first player since Johnny Miller in 1974 to win four times before the Masters. Trying to win three in a row is something he has done before, late in 1997, albeit they came in a four-week span.

"I don't view it as intimidating," Duval said of the feat. "I think it is helpful to win the week before. It makes you think you are doing things right. I have the same chance to win as the other 90 players starting this week. What happened in the last two weeks has no bearing this week."

Blanking out the distractions is Duval's great strength, as it was of Jack Nicklaus. "I think my head is where it needs to be. I get ahead of myself on the course like anyone else. But I don't do it a whole lot and I can get back to where I want to be when it happens.

"I don't think about technique on the course. Never have. I get ready to play and when the tournament starts, you go play: you don't think about mechanics. The thing I've found to be important for me to play well is to be rested, ready to play and looking forward to playing.

"It was a hard course to walk last week so the biggest thing I've got to do now is to rest up. In hindsight, making a trip here last month to see the changes to the course was very important because now I don't need to work so much this week."

Duval arrived at Augusta National yesterday only to register and will probably not play a practice round until tomorrow. Meanwhile, one of the traditions of Masters week, a dinner for overseas players and officials, was cancelled and replaced by a cocktail party last night. Given the state of most of the Europeans' games, the Augusta members probably wanted to avoid a long, depressing evening.

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