- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England David Duval finally has shrugged off the major monkey.

The 29-year-old Duval marched around Lytham & St. Annes in 67 strokes yesterday, reaching 10 under and claiming his first major title by three strokes at the 130th British Open.

"It feels wonderful," said Duval, who started the day at 6 under among a massive scrum of contenders, pulled away with a front-nine 32 and tamed the treacherous back nine to finish three shots clear of Sweden's Niclas Fasth.

"I've played really well in some [major] events in the past and had some chances that did not work out. And today, you know, I almost did not even make a bogey. I played real well. I made putts. I did everything I needed to do, and I feel really good about that."

So methodical was Duval's patient vivisection of the windless, 6,905-yard, par-71 layout that the day was almost completely devoid of drama perhaps a fitting finale given Duval's own stolid demeanor.

Tiger Woods entered the day five strokes back, took a triple bogey on the par-3 12th and finished nine strokes behind in a tie for 25th. It was Woods' worst finish in a major in almost four years.

The lone blip of suspense came when Duval was preparing to hit his tee shot at the par-3 first. Welshman Ian Woosnam, who also started the day at 6 under in the group ahead of Duval, walked off the first hole with an apparent birdie in his pocket after nearly holing a 6-iron. But as Woosnam was preparing to address his tee shot at the second, caddie Miles Byrne sheepishly informed him that he had accidentally left an extra driver in his bag. The 15th club cost Woosnam a two-stroke penalty, turning the birdie into a momentum-crippling bogey.

"At that moment I felt like I had been kicked in the teeth," said Woosnam, who eventually finished in a six-way tie for third at 6-under. "I did not really get it out of my head all the way 'round. I never shook it off."

But it's pointless to conjecture about what kind of claret jug joust might have developed between Duval and Woosnam had the penalty not snuffed Wee Woosie's spirit. Fact is, Duval played near-flawless golf on the day, hitting 13 greens, erasing his rare misses with a sturdy short game and finishing his 72-hole flogging of Lytham's par 5s.

Duval birdied the third from 18 feet, two-putted the par-5 sixth for birdie to take his first sole lead of the event at 8 under, extended the margin with a point-blank birdie at the par-5 seventh and then piled on extras at Nos. 11 and 13 against a lone bogey at No. 12.

"I think that to post a good score on this golf course you have to birdie the par 5s," said Duval, who finished the tournament 10 under on Lytham's trio of reachable par 5s (Nos. 6, 7 and 11). "When I first played this course at the '96 Open I walked away thinking it suited me… . I think one of the reasons it fits me is that it demands extreme patience, and I have that."

In fact, few players on the planet have exhibited higher reserves of that quality over the last several years. Duval has waited through eight top-10 finishes in the majors without a breakthrough over the past four years. He has suffered in the shadows of Woods' titanic rise to greatness, floundering to become the top rival for Woods (1 under) everyone anticipated after he won four times on the PGA Tour in 1998 to lead the money list.

Yesterday, after Duval tapped in for victory at the 18th with a massive gallery roaring around him, he took off his signature Oakley shades, tipped his cap to the crowd and smiled for what seemed like the first time in his career.

"That's probably the biggest smile I've ever seen from him," Duval's fiancee, Julie McArthur, said of the sight. "I don't know if anyone's ever seen that happen before."

The reason behind Duval's staid, often sullen demeanor has been well documented. When he was just 9, his 11-year-old brother and hero, Brent, died from Aplastic Anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow stops producing white blood cells. David and his sister had both been tested as compatible marrow donors, and David was found to be a 90 percent match with his brother.

After some excruciatingly painful marrow extractions, the treatments seemed to be working. But when Brent's health suddenly deteriorated and he passed away, David blamed himself. His parents' relationship didn't survive the trauma and ended in divorce. David took his grief to the golf course, beating out his frustration on the practice range. He has been extremely introverted, somewhat solitary and completely stoic since. His dispassionate demeanor on the golf course and standoffish behavior off it regularly earned him criticism from all corners.

"It is just a silly old game," Duval said yesterday, hinting at the painful lesson he learned as a 9-year-old and perhaps explaining why he doesn't do more fist-pumping as he goes about his business. "I kind of thought to myself at times out there that it is funny how much is made about it because we are playing a game. I've made it a lot bigger than it is, too, at times."

Much more is likely to be made of Duval's game after yesterday's performance. There is now little doubt as to the world's true No. 2. And with the first major step behind him, perhaps Duval will blossom, as was previously anticipated, into Tiger's principal challenger.

"I sure hope so," said Duval, who also waited through an excruciating series of near-misses before winning the first of his 12 regular tour titles in 1997. "When you beat him and you beat the other players on that board, I think you could look at it maybe as how the players felt beating Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson. They know they've beaten the best player.

"You can argue if he is the best player ever or the best player of the generation, whatever the case may be. Time will tell that. But, you know, I beat them all this week… . If anything, I imagine what it will do is intensify my drive, you know, the desire to do it again."

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