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Duval's great start to season now forgotton

One columnist who handicapped the top 10 players in the field for the NEC Invitational wrote that David Duval winning at Firestone would "salvage a disappointing year."


Duval became the first player in 25 years to win four times before the Masters. One of those was The Players Championship, the strongest and deepest field in golf. Another victory featured a 59, only the third in PGA Tour history and the first on a Sunday. The bank ledger showed a hefty $3.2 million.

That's hardly a failure, but it has been forgotten.

For that he can blame Tiger Woods.

As great as Duval was in the first three months of the season, Woods has been even better the past three months.

He won the Memorial with a short game that left host Jack Nicklaus speechless. He won twice in Chicago, first in the Western Open and then a month later in the PGA Championship, becoming the youngest player in 19 years to own two majors at 23.

His victory Sunday was his fourth in his seven PGA Tour starts. Including the Deutsche Bank SAP Open in Germany, which included six of the top 10 players in the world rankings, Woods has gone 5-for-8.

Is this golf or slow-pitch softball?

"He's the best player in the world right now, and he's proving that every week," Fred Couples said at Firestone.

Funny, but that's what everyone was saying about Duval only five months ago.

And in many respects, Woods' streak is similar to the way Duval used to make winning look as easy as showing up on the first tee.

Woods had a 62 to launch himself to victory in the NEC Invitational, a limited yet elite field of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup players. Duval had a 63 to cruise to victory in the Mercedes Championship, another field limited only to winners from the past season.

In a tuneup for the British Open, Woods held off Mike Weir to win the Western. In a tuneup for the Masters, Duval surged past Weir and Rory Sabbatini to win the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta.

The major difference is a major championship. The Players Championship may be the next best thing to a major. The Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass may have been a stiffer test than Medinah. Still, Duval remains the only player to occupy No. 1 in the world for more than two weeks without having won a major.

Majors aside, the best two players in the world have put together two incredible stretches in one year, a remarkable feat given the depth and talent on the PGA Tour today.

"A lot of good things went my way for a long time," Duval said.

Nick Price knows the feeling. He won nine times in 15 months from 1993-94, including back-to-back majors in the tail end of that streak.

"There was a period for me where I felt if I played well, I was going to win," Price said. "It's very hard to describe. And you feel like it's never going to come to an end. Unfortunately, it does for all of us."

It appears that way for Duval.

He hasn't won since the first weekend of April, a span of 11 tournaments, which represents his longest drought since he started winning in October 1997. Then again, he gave himself chances in two majors and finished second only two weeks ago.

Woods, however, may be an exception.

It's one thing to look at his performance since he took three weeks off after the MCI Classic. Woods has finished lower than seventh just once in his last nine tournaments -- the Sprint International, which came the week after he won the PGA Championship.

To look even further back than the Masters must be extremely daunting for the rest of professional golf. While Woods won only twice worldwide in 1998, he had 13 finishes in the top 10 and only twice finished lower than 20th last year.

Look back even further. He hasn't missed a cut since the Canadian Open in 1997, the only one of his career. Since turning pro three years ago, Woods has never gone longer than four tournaments without contending.

Even after winning the Masters by 12 strokes, one of six victories in his first 21 tournaments as a pro, Woods set out to change his entire swing. Keep in mind that Nick Faldo rebuilt his swing in the mid-1980s and went two years without winning.

"It can still get better," Woods said.

Is it possible that the streak he is on now didn't start when he returned from his post-Masters break? Is it possible that it never really ended?

Or won't?