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David Duval focusing on 1999

KA LUA, Hawaii, Jan. 6 -- As David Duval looks forward to 1999, it will be difficult for him to improve on 1998. He led the PGA Tour with four victories last year and he won the money title with more than $2.59 million. Though Mark O'Meara, who won the Masters and the British Open, was named the tour's player of the year, some believe Duval was the best all-round player.

So as Duval prepares to tee off Thursday for the season-opening Mercedes Championships, can he take his game even higher? Duval would like to win a major, one of the few credentials missing from his impressive resume;. And at age 27, Duval's best golf should be ahead, an imposing thought considering he has won 7 of the last 26 tournaments he has entered.

"I would love to be David Duval right now," said Fred Couples, one of the 30 competitors here in the elite field limited to players who won on the PGA Tour last year. "David Duval is going to shatter every money record there is. He's our best player, and he's going to making a lot of money for a long time."

The Mercedes, on the 7,263-yard Kapalua Plantation course, is the only par 73 event on tour this year, and it features the longest hole on tour, the 663-yard No. 18. Eight of the top 12 players in the world will be competing: Tiger Woods, Davis Love 3d, Vijay Singh, defending champion Phil Mickelson, Couples, Jim Furyk, Mark O'Meara and Duval.

Duval's impressive play has created increased expectations, and it is often harder to play well when people expect nothing less.

Yet, Duval has the demeanour, the work ethic, and the talent to handle being a star. His focus on the course is almost machinelike. Bad shots or bad breaks rarely faze him, and his mental toughness has been proven.

Before winning his first tour event at the 1997 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill, Duval had seven second-place finishes. Many were wondering if he had what it took to win. But since that first victory, Duval has won more often than anyone else in the world. And in pressure situations, Duval has become a master at avoiding critical blunders.

"I know what it feels like to win golf tournaments, I know what it feels like to lose them, and I know how it feels like to blow a couple," said Duval, who came close to winning his first major last year, tying Couples for second place at the Masters, one stroke behind O'Meara. "Before I won my first tournament, I think I handled myself pretty well because I was criticised for not winning. It's like, if you don't win, you're a bum. But if you have a top-ten finish out here, you've had a pretty good week.

"I don't try to play spectacular golf.

I just hate making double-bogeys. Bogeys, you're going to make. But if you try to get cute, that's when you make trouble for yourself.

"I try to rely on my putter. I feel like I'm a good putter, and I'm going to make some 12- or 14-footers. Over the last four or five years, I've learned how to play more conservatively."

He added: "Everybody says the late 20's, up to 35 or 36 years old, is when you hit you're prime. Gee, I hope so. That would be a lot of fun."


TW 7/1/99