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Of the almost 19,500 days that David Duval has negotiated this mortal coil, there are several that stand out.

Day 9,774 yielded his first PGA Tour title, a playoff victory over Grant Waite and Duffy Waldorf in the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill.

On day 10,488, he thrashed Jesper Parnevik 5&4 to post his first full Ryder Cup point as the United States rallied from a 10-6 deficit to win a bad-tempered clash at Brookline.

And let’s not forget day 11,153. That afternoon, he bagged his first major championship, winning The Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

So many special, momentous days.

Day 10,306, however, might just be the pick of the bunch.

March 28, 1999.

As dawn broke over his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, Duval was already mentally preparing for the final round of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, a suburb to the southeast of the city.

A two-over 74 on a brutally tough third day manoeuvred the stoic 27-year-old into a one-shot lead with a round to play. Eighteen holes were all that stood between him and victory in the event he had grown up watching from the other side of the ropes.

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“I remember going there one year and following Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal for pretty much an entire day,” he tells bunkered.co.uk. “There was no rough that year and watching them around the greens, in particular, was absolutely fascinating.”

However, there was a lot more at stake that day than ‘just’ a tenth PGA Tour title.

The PLAYERS had long since established itself as the PGA Tour’s flagship event and, as such, was one of the most lucrative events on the schedule. Win and Duval would also leapfrog Tiger Woods at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings, taking the No.1 spot for the first time in his career.

And not to be outdone, his father, Bob, was in contention to win the Emerald Coast Classic on the Champions Tour just 350 miles away. The Duvals had a chance to make history by becoming the first-ever father and son to win on the PGA Tour and its senior equivalent in the same day.

“As far as my career goes, that was a pretty significant day,” laughs Duval. “There was a lot going on. Heading into it, I was as excited for my dad as anything. He had worked as a professional his whole life, mostly in a golf shop, so for him to have an opportunity to win at that level was pretty cool.”

Duval was walking down the 14th during his final round when a roving cameraman sidled up to him.

“He said, ‘Hey, your dad has just won. Now it’s up to you.’ I’m not sure if that’s what I needed to hear at that exact moment but it all worked out in the end.”

Indeed it did. With Bob Duval clutching his trophy and watching on TV, David harnessed challenging conditions to close with a one-over 73, good enough for a three-under total – to date, the highest winning score at Sawgrass since 1982 – and a two-shot win over nearest challenger Scott Gump.

“Obviously, it was a dream come true,” he reflects. “In addition to all of the other stuff that was going on – my dad winning, getting to world No.1 and so on – winning my hometown event was incredibly special.”

Considering his affection for The PLAYERS, it’s perhaps no surprise which side of the ‘fifth major’ debate Duval comes down on.

“Oh, it’s a major,” he insists. “There’s not a question in my mind about that. I mean, it is played on arguably the best tournament course in the world, it has the best field, the best depth, the biggest variance of conditions – to win that championship is a huge accomplishment.

“We all know it’s a major. Certainly, in my mind, I’m a two-time major champion, it’s as simple as that.”

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The triumph landed Duval the single biggest payday of his career – a cheque for $900,000. He can’t help but laugh when it’s pointed out to him that this year’s champion will take home $4.5 million.

“I mean, we always played for a lot of money but, nowadays, the guys are playing for staggering amounts,” he says. “There’s obviously a lot of debate about where prize money is at and where it should be. That’s not really for me to say. But you know, when I won the money list in 1998, I earned just under $2.6 million. That’s less than you get for winning some tournaments now.

“I guess if I had one concern about the financial rewards available to top players now it’s that I struggle to imagine players having careers with the same longevity as the likes of, say, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh.

“Guys are putting so much into this 15 or 18-year window that I have to imagine the prevalence of injury – or, at least, the prospect of injury – is so much higher. When you train and play the way guys do these days, chasing those huge rewards, you’re going to put your body under a huge amount of strain. You just are.”

This week’s PLAYERS Championship will be the 50th edition of the event and conspicuous by his absence from the field will be the man largely responsible for having driven the extraordinary increases in prize money over the last three decades.

A two-time winner at Sawgrass, Tiger Woods has opted to sit out the event once again. He has, in fact, played it only three times in the past ten years, most recently in 2019 when he finished in a tie for 30th.

Along with Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, Duval was, at his peak, one of the few players who seemed capable of challenging Woods in the early years of his career.

It begs the question: what did Duval have that other players didn’t?

“Well, for one thing, I was never scared of him,” he says. “I knew what he was capable of and how good he was. I had a huge amount of respect for him. But I knew I was good enough to beat him. You know, to beat Tiger you needed to be on top form in absolutely every department because you could rest assured he would be. But, deep down, I knew I had the ability. I always backed myself.”

With his own playing career now all but a thing of the past, Duval has joined the rest of us in watching Woods’ trials and tribulations from afar. And, like the rest of us, he has no idea what’s next for the 15-time major champion.

“I guess it’s all kind of up in the air,” he sighs. “I’m comfortable saying he wouldn’t be trying to play if he didn’t believe he was capable of competing. He’s not the sort of guy who’s going to go there just for the ceremony of it and the acclaim. But what do I expect? Good golf, basically.

“His toughest battles will obviously be physical. He’s still capable of hitting incredible shots and holing big putts. It’s just a matter of whether he can actually walk and deal with the physical toll a round puts on your body.

“It’ll be fascinating to watch, though. Good luck to him.”

Watch The 2024 PLAYERS Championship

This week, The PLAYERS Championship celebrates its 50th anniversary. Click here to check out our full tournament preview and TV guide.


author headshot

Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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