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Was Duval's 59 the best round ever?

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 52 feet.

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.

 

TRW