By James Achenbach
Lytham St. Annes, England
For touring pros or ordinary amateurs, there is much to be learned from golf statistics.
Why did David Duval win the British Open? One thing is clear: It was not because he is superhuman.
Duval made mistakes. Statistics show that he missed fairways. And he missed greens. In the end, it might have been his attitude and his perseverance that won the championship for him – and the fact that he murdered the par-5 holes.
Bernhard Langer, his playing partner in the last round, focused on Duval’s behavior.
“He was very calm,” Langer observed. “He hit the ball very solidly and made some putts, but he never got carried away.”
Duval, reflecting on this, mused, “You know what? It’s just a silly old game. I was just trying to hit it solid and move it forward. I was then going to go hit it again, and I was going to count on making putts. It sounds stupid, but . . . maybe that is some of the reason I felt so good today, that maybe I finally realized it is just a game.”
Ordinary golfers sometimes feel they can’t afford to miss shots, but there is a lesson to be learned from this British Open: Duval, who finished 10 under par, missed plenty of shots. There were 14 par-4 and par-5 holes, and he hit an average of just 8.5 fairways per round. Furthermore, he averaged just 12.25 greens in regulation (Retief Goosen, the U.S. Open champion, averaged only 11 greens here at the British Open).
In other words, Duval was a superb recovery artist. He did not get greedy when he drove his ball in the rough. When he missed greens, his short game was very sharp.
And he avoided fatal mistakes.
“I just did not make any big mistakes,” said Duval, noting that his only bogey in the final round came at the par-3 12th when he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker.
Then there were the par-5 holes. Royal Lytham & St. Annes has three, all of them reachable in two. Duval dominated these holes, going 10 under par in playing the 12 par 5s over four days. This meant that Duval was even par for the tournament on the par 4s and par 3s. It was all he needed to do.
Runner-up Niclas Fasth, who lost by three, was 8 under on the par 5s. None of the six players who tied for third was better than 8 under on the par 5s. One of those, Ernie Els, lost the British Open right there – he was only 3 under par on the par 5s, or seven shots worse than Duval. Langer, another of the six, was just 4 under.
Duval registered 20 birdies in 72 holes, five more than Fasth and five more than Tiger Woods.
Duval said he had never putted better in a major championship.
“I would have missed the cut,” he said, “if I hadn’t putted so well the first two rounds.”
Putting is one area in which statistics don’t always accurately reflect a golfer’s skill or success. Duval, who raved about his putting, averaged 29 putts per round. Ian Woosnam, who has performed like a new man since switching to a long putter, was considerably better at 27.25 putts per round.
Colin Montgomerie, who led after 18 and 36 holes, averaged 28.75 putts and blew a number of important short putts. It clearly was putting that robbed Monty of his momentum.
Woods, meanwhile, averaged 29.5 putts, although the big story of his failure to challenge for the title was his collapse on the par 5s. Woods, a long and fearsome hitter, was humbled by Lytham’s shortish par 5s. For the week, he was 3 under par.
Woods, who lost by nine to Duval, was seven strokes higher than his rival on the par 5s.
Why did Woods play so poorly on the par 5s, while Duval managed them so successfully? Woods missed the fairway at crucial times, even taking an unplayable lie on the par-5 seventh hole during the third round. Duval kept his ball in play on these holes, and it paid off. He birdied all three of them in the final round as he ran away from the rest of the field.
In the final analysis, there is a quality that cannot be measured by statistics. It is called heart, and Duval had plenty of it. While Woods was practicing his version of 1,000 anguished faces, Duval was cool and unflustered.
At the coronation, there was no doubt who was king.