2006: Davids slay their Goliaths
David Duval’s quest to regain his wings
on the PGA Tour embarked on a new chapter last week as he arrived in Hawaii coming off the worst year of his career.
The former world No. 1 made a single cut in 20 starts in 2005, banking less than $8,000 – a far cry from the turn of the decade, when he was an ATM on spikes. When your top finish for an entire year on the PGA Tour is a tie for 60th at the Valero Texas Open, it’s not as if there’s a big wave of momentum to ride.
As he showed up to his 7:53 tee time Jan. 12 at the Sony Open, Duval’s winding road back encountered a humorous speed bump. Duval’s mighty credentials – including his victory at the 2001 British Open – were reeled off by the starter, who then led into his grand intro: Ladies and gentlemen, David Toms.
As players at Waialae Country Club found out last week, there was only one of those. Toms was in the same group as Duval, and started out quietly. By the time Saturday arrived, when the winds of Oahu finally quieted to a whisper, Toms was rocking. He shot 9-under 61, setting a course record, and joined Chad Campbell (62) in pulling away from the field, seven shots clear. A day later, when Campbell struggled to a 70, the stage was left for Toms, a seasoned winner who hasn’t had much trouble making a name for himself.
Last summer, Toms made headlines when he departed the first round of the 84 Lumber Classic in a stretcher, his heart racing at 170 beats per minute. He was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, an electrical problem within the heart. He underwent surgery on his heart in mid-November, and any lingering questions about his health were answered over the weekend at Waialae, as a red-hot putter led him to 15 birdies over the final two rounds.
His final-round 65 pushed him to 19-under 261 and capped a five-shot victory over Campbell and a late-charging Rory Sabbatini, and marked Toms’ 12th triumph, his first stroke-play victory since 2004. One week after his 39th birthday and in top shape physically, he doesn’t see any reason why his best golf can’t be ahead of him.
Toms, who won his only major (the PGA Championship) a month after Duval landed his, quietly has become a dependable closer on the Tour. Davis Love III recently was quoted as saying, “When David Toms gets on a roll, he’s tough to beat,” and those words connected with Toms.
“To look at what a veteran said about my golf game, obviously that had my attention,” he said. “It hit home with me that I can do this, and I can do it well.”
Duval was a player who once had the world’s attention as well. It took him a while to break through on Tour, but when he did, the victories came in bunches.
In a five-year stretch that began in fall 1997, he won 13 times. But he hasn’t won since hoisting the Claret Jug on a memorable afternoon at Royal Lytham 41⁄2 years ago. He entered Sony ranked No. 491.
An old nemesis – a cranky back – reared its head early in the week at Sony, keeping Duval away from the course Tuesday and Wednesday. He played his first round in a brace, squeezed inside the cut with a 68 Friday, and on Sunday, the man who once shot 59 at PGA West had that magical number dancing inside his head once again.
Wielding his trusty old Scotty Cameron Newport putter, his closing 63 (which included 24 putts) was a work of art, with nary a bogey on his card. It was his best round on Tour since shooting 62 at the
FBR Capital Open (now Booz Allen Classic) in June 2003.
“I wanted to do it again today, frankly,” Duval said of trying to shoot 59. “But those are few and far between, obviously. I felt comfortable enough, like I was playing well enough to do it.”
He played as if his early-week back problems were well behind him.
“I’m trying to have the mentality that nothing’s bothering me,” Duval said. “And, like I said, when I address the golf ball like I want to, and swing it like I want to, it doesn’t really bother me.”
There was a time when a tie for 31st would have been cause for frustration, not optimism, but Duval left hoping he had something to build upon.
“This was good golf,” he said.
Maybe not as good as the kind played by the man he’d been mistaken for Thursday. But a couple of Davids left Hawaii with reason to believe bigger things might be in store.
– Alex Miceli and wire reports