Duval vs. Woods

by Jonathan Riccio | 7/27/01 5:00am

Just a few years ago the stage was set for an intense golf rivalry between Tiger Woods and David Duval. It was to be the Lee Trevino-Jack Nicklaus duel of the 21st Century. And then something happened.

What happened was that Tiger Woods matured into arguably the best golfer the world has ever seen, while Duval failed to meet initial expectations, achieving runner-up status seven times before breaking through with his first tour victory (in a playoff).

Despite his first major victory this past weekend at the St. Anne's championship in England, Duval still has much to prove in the world of golf.

Duval's British Open victory was long overdue. The rivalry-hungry sports media has manufactured what it portrays as a fierce rivalry between Woods and Duval that really never existed between the two (at least on the basis of Duval's recent play).

The culmination of this so-called rivalry occurred during the fall last year when both men faced off on primetime television before a national audience in an 18-hole match playoff. Such an event was engineered solely for the benefit of generating revenue for the Professional Golfers' Association tour and for corporate sponsors, for the playoff pitted two very unequal talents.

At this point, Duval should only attempt to play according to his own rules and standards. Woods has raised the bar so high in the sport that it will never be reached by any current player; who else is going to hold all 4 major championships at the same time?

In spite of this, it is not too late for David Duval to etch his name in the history books of golf with some more consistent play. Duval is, and has long been, one of golf's most overrated and over-hyped players.

Perhaps because of his youth, or because of his flamboyance, or due to his image as a nontraditional golf player (for example, his refusal to wear the often-required collared shirts at major championships), the sports and news media has given Duval more credit than he deserves.

Let's not forget that Woods is younger, much more flamboyant and represents the 21st century athlete better than any other player. Woods is an icon, while Duval is just a player.

The question is, will the silver claret jug Duval took home this past weekend in England be the forerunner of things to come, or will he sink back down into golf mediocrity, just another face in a host of players?

Davis Love III, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh have all won more majors than Duval, and placed consistently higher in the majors than Duval has managed to do, and yet the focus every big tournament seems to be whether or not Duval will be able to catch Tiger.

These sorts of comparisons have no basis and must stop. After all, let's not forget, Duval needs to win a highly difficult to attain number of majors -- five -- to catch Tiger. One major championship doesn't make a rivalry.

Tom Watson faced a similar situation in the 70s, when no one was on par with Jack Nicklaus then. He took his lumps early in attempts to win a major, and finally broke through in 1975, winning the British Open.

He went on to win five British Opens, two green jackets at the Masters and a US Open title, and yet no one would have dared go so far as to put him in the same category as Jack Nicklaus, the world's career record-holder in major championship golf victories.

The same sort of career would do David Duval just fine. The shadow of Tiger Woods will always lurk wherever David Duval shall tread in the sports world, but his opportunity to be considered one of the all-time greats has not passed him by just yet.

The time is now for him to show how good a player he really is; the time for him to reach everyone's expectations is upon us. We'll all be watching, even Tiger Woods.