June 25, 2007

David is Goliath

Duval breaks through at the Open for his first major title—finally

The 130th British Open was expected to be played on the links of Royal Tiger St. Woods. It would be the same old story, right? Something similar to the majors at Eldrick National, Woods Beach, and St. Tiger. But then a saga was presented that was so crazy, it left this bureau singing a line from our familiar Marine hymn—from the falls of Monty-zoomer to the shores of similes.

Those similes, with their metaphor cousins, would be sprayed all over David Duval, of course, after he brought a dark, or Darth, calm to the championship. But not to get ahead of one's ownself. Let the tale be told in all of its wacko nutsiness. Correctly, as you may know, the course is known as Royal Lytham St. Annes, so named, no doubt, for the other two Bronte sisters, Lytham and Anne. The layout sits hard by the Irish Sea on a blue-collar coast of England, down near enchanted Blackpool, the area where pleasure-seekers go to sunbathe in the gray mist and swirling winds.

This time, after so many warm British Opens in the past—an evil plot against cashmere, obviously—the locals were right about their weather. As one taxi driver put it, "What we say is, 'If you can see Liverpool in the morning, you know it's going to rain, and if you can't see Liverpool, it is raining.' "

Frequent tastes of goofy weather—cold, then not—made the course even more challenging. And Lytham has 197 bunkers, enough to make it look more like a moonscape than any other place on this particular planet—a small step for man, a giant step for Fred Couples and Jim Furyk. Not to forget Colin Montgomerie and Tiger, eventually.

Tiger arrived after playing fun golf and fishing with cronies in Ireland, and immediately he seemed to be trying to talk his way out of his mild slump. "I've made some small adjustments," he said, "and I'm starting to hit the ball a bit more solid." Butch Harmon, his guru, took it to another level when he said, "He could play blindfolded here and I wouldn't bet against him."

Confidence builder.

On the other hand, Montgomerie, the big Scot and crowd favorite, arrived displaying his better side and a self-deprecating sense of humor. He spoke of his past failures in majors and said there was nothing to recommend him.

Regarding Colin, it was Lewine Mair of The Daily Telegraph who explained, "He's also earned a new wave of respect by dealing so openly and honestly with his marriage problems of last year." Whether or not they are resolved depends on who you read or talk to.

But majors have a way of keeping everyone on edge, and Sergio Garcia got a bit of a jolt when a golf cart accidentally backed up and pinned his assistant manager against the clubhouse. Carlos Rodriguez' ankle was crushed, requiring screws in two places. And we thought the golf course was going to be tough. Thursday was cold, windy, rainy. You started by counting the gables on the monstrous old redbrick clubhouse, looking for all the world like a place where P.D. James might stumble upon three dead bodies.

Playing through the worst of the elements, Montgomerie carved out a glorious six-under 65 and became the dominant presence in the championship for three days. He played smartly and swung beautifully and putted like Tiger usually does. On Day 1, he seized the lead by three over any-and-all lurkers, but, more importantly, by six over Tiger.

Woods, who hadn't found a single bunker while winning by eight last year at St. Andrews, began finding plenty of sand, and was forced to dig deep to salvage a 71. It was definitely a trend. The rest of the day's fun was provided by two other Americans. Couples, paired with Montgomerie, was three under par when he landed in a pot bunker near the 14th green.

Awkward lie. What to do? Well, first Freddie tried to hit it left-handed. Left it right there. Then he hit it backward but left it in the sand. Now he tried to hit it forward but nailed the bank. Still in there. He next took a wild slash, and this one somehow worked—it was actually miraculous—and he made the short putt for 7. The good news was, this probably happened to a guy who would be bothered the least by it all.

Furyk's catastrophe was a little different. Two under going to the par-5 11th, normally a birdie hole, he put his drive in a fairway bunker. His second wound up in Lytham's deep rough and was unplayable. Next, his 5-iron found a greenside bunker. Trying to explode from there, the shot struck the deep face and rebounded to hit him. Two-stroke penalty. He then wedged onto the green and took two putts for a 10.

I don't know what Jim said, but I would have said, "Instruction that, you morons." Furyk's 10 whacks at the 11th were only 10,904 shy of Gary Player's total for his 47-year Open run, which appears to have come to an end at age 65. "You know, golf punishes you," said Player, and who are we to argue?

The leader board turned seriously weird on Saturday. It was Drop the Dead Donkey Day. Which is a bet you can make in the shops on the Auld Sod. You want, say, Justin Leonard to miss the cut, you bet him to "drop the dead donkey."

Except when the day was done it looked like three dead donkeys were tied for the lead with Duval. They were the long-lost Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer, along with Alex Cejka, the Czech-German. Among the lurkers was Niclas Fasth, who eventually finished second and replaced Jesper Parnevik as low Swede.

It was a surreal day in which 24 guys broke par and no fewer than 10 of them held or shared the lead at one time or another. Duval came in around noon with his 65, but it took seven hours for him to discover that he was clustered on top and in the final group. One thing that helped him was Monty getting the unluckiest lie imaginable in a pot bunker at the 13th that resulted in a double bogey. He had to address the ball with one foot in the bunker and the other leg stretched out on the upper bank, looking very much like me trying to climb in or out of the tiny shower in my BB.

Meanwhile, Tiger played more like a very sick donkey. For perhaps the first time in his life, he left himself with two unplayable lies in a single 18 after hitting some of those wide-right tee shots he had hit in the U.S. Open at Southern Hills. His hand touched the ball more often than his clubface did. At day's end there were 13 players tied or within a stroke of the lead, 19 within two, and 23 within three. Talk about a gangsome. As Duval started breaking up the gangsome pretty early Sunday, on the way to firing that 67 to win his first major—finally—a few other things became noteworthy. Tiger scared himself up a triple bogey and finished tied for 25th, Low Immortal, and Monty spent another afternoon making nothing happen and tied for 13th. Low Crybaby again.

But none of that compared to Woosnam's bad news. Here was a guy tied for the lead, who almost made a hole-in-one on the 206-yard first hole with a spiffy 6-iron to within six inches. Most days that's a 2, but as Woosnam prepared to hit his tee shot at the second, caddie Miles Byrne offered these frightening words: "You're going to go ballistic."

Woosie had been experimenting with two drivers, and his caddie thought the extra had been taken to the locker room before the round. So imagine Ian's reaction when Miles gulped and said, "We have two drivers in the bag." You do the math: 15 clubs—one over the limit—and that birdie 2 at the first became a bogey 4. The two-shot penalty may have actually cost Woosnam four strokes—the margin he finished behind Duval—since he angrily bogeyed two holes almost instantly after the incident. He had snatched the extra driver out of the bag on the second tee and side-armed it at a tree. "You've only got one job to do, and that's to look after the bloody clubs!" he said to Byrne.

That's when the caddie got a new name: Dead Man Walking. By the end of the round Woosie had regained his sense of humor—sort of. Asked how he and his caddie keep count of the clubs, Woosie deadpanned: "You usually start at one and finish with 14." There was one other count to note if you're looking ahead to the Ryder Cup in September: 12 Europeans and only five Americans were among the final top 20. Team USA may have to show up at The Belfry after all.

At least the heat's off Duval. After near-misses in a number of majors, he's no longer one of the three best players in the world who hasn't won one. Which begs the question: How would you like to be Phil Mickelson or Montgomerie right now? "When you beat Tiger and you beat the other players on that board, you can feel how the players felt beating Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson," Duval said. "They know they've beaten the best player." Then it seemed to begin to sink in. "You know, I beat them all this week, and I played really well," Duval said. "It feels wonderful."

David Duval deserved this one, by the way. With his 65-67 over the last two rounds—when it counted the most—he shot 10 under for the week, after all.

You could argue that he may have been buoyed by the fact that Tiger Woods was always a safe distance away, but you'd also have to say that Duval helped put him there.

Golf Digest Writer-at-Large Dan Jenkins is the author of 17 books, including the new golf novel The Money-Whipped, Steer-Job, Three-Jack, Give-Up Artist (Doubleday, $24.95, 272 pages).