Was Duval's 59 the best
Al Geiberger will always
be known as Mr. 59 because he was the first. Chip Beck has been an afterthought
as the second player to hit golf's magic number, and he'll probably fall even
further from memory. So where does this leave David Duval?
He may have to settle for
perhaps the best round of golf ever played.
OK, so it was the Bob Hope
Chrysler Classic and not the U.S. Open.
Duval won't get any degree-of-difficulty
points for his 59, the lowest score recorded in the final round of a PGA Tour
event. Never mind that he was firing at Sunday pins cut a little tighter with
a tournament on the line.
The Arnold Palmer-designed
PGA West is hardly a carbon copy of Oakmont or Oakland Hills. Did anyone hear
Duval say after signing for his 59, "I'm glad I brought this course, this monster,
to its knees?"
Best round ever?
That seems to apply more
to the 63 Johnny Miller laid down at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open, or Ben
Hogan's 67 in the final round of the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, where only
one other player broke par 70 the entire week.
What about Arnold Palmer's
65 at Cherry Hills to win the 1960 U.S. Open? Jack Nicklaus and his back-nine
30 at Augusta in 1986? Greg Norman's 64 at wind-swept Royal St. George to win
the 1993 Open? David Graham at Merion in the 1981 U.S. Open?
What separates Duval from
that short list of great rounds is obvious: The Hope is not a major.
What distinguishes Duval
from that group is the number: 59.
And compared to the other
two 59s recorded in PGA Tour history, this was a masterpiece.
"It's like pitching a perfect
game," Duval said, only this was rarer -- there have been 13 perfect games.
Duval didn't make every
putt. He didn't hit every green.
Still, he had a putt for
birdie or eagle on 17 holes, and only four times were those putts longer than
10 feet. It was a brilliant display of irons, which might be Duval's strength
except that he has no apparent weakness.
The back nine was a mesmerising
performance by the best player in the world -- the slight turn of his head at
contact, eyes hidden behind wraparound sunglasses, locked in on the ball, eventually
the flag stick.
What makes his 59 different
from the others?
Geiberger shot his 59 in
the second round of the 1977 Memphis Classic. Colonial Country Club was a much
tougher track than PGA West, but stormy weather that week brought into play the
"lift, clean and place" rule, always an advantage.
Geiberger started his round
with a 40-foot birdie putt -- Duval's 11 birdies and one eagle measured a combined
After making the turn,
Geiberger holed a 30-yard pitching wedge for eagle, added two more birdies from
the 18- to 20-foot range, then became the first PGA Tour player to break 60 with
a 10-foot birdie on the last hole.
"I didn't have any 2- and
3-footers," he recalled.
Beck had one of those,
on the final hole of his 59 in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational.
Like the Hope, that was
a 90-hole event played in the desert, where low scores are the norm. That's where
the comparisons ends.
The Las Vegas Invitational
used a new course that year called Sunrise Golf Club, relatively short at 6,914
yards and designed by Jim Colbert. Robert Gamez predicted that week that someone
would shoot 59.
"It may be a little short
for these guys," Colbert said in the days leading up to the tournament. "It was
built for the members to play and enjoy."
Beck enjoyed it, all right.
He drained a 40-footer
for birdie on his first hole, No. 10, had two other putts of 20 feet and then
broke 60 with an 8-iron to about 3 feet on the last hole.
The books will show the
same number for all three. Geiberger found some measure of solace as he watched
Duval stand over an 8-foot eagle putt on the last hole.
"At least I know he's not
going to shoot 58," Geiberger said.
Beck missed the cut at
the Hope and was eating dinner Sunday night in Chicago when he heard the news.
"Actually, I wish he had
broken the record and shot 58," he told Golfweek. "I think it will happen soon,
and I hope it does. That's the next level."
Whether that next level
becomes the best round ever played depends on whether the player -- maybe Duval
-- can come as close to perfect as golf can get.