Originally created 10/02/00

Duval a winner again



PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- David Duval won't have to answer any more questions about his back injury. Or winning.

Playing for the first time in 10 weeks, Duval showed he might be ready to take a run at Tiger Woods, making birdies on three of the last four holes Sunday to win the Buick Challenge.

He closed with a 7-under 65 and finished at 269, two strokes ahead of Jeff Maggert and Nick Price, for his first victory in 29 tournaments.

"It's surprising to come back this way," said Duval, the former Georgia Tech star who earned $414,000.

Even more stunning was the way he won. Trailing by two strokes with three holes to play, Duval hit a wedge to 2 feet for birdie on No. 17, then hit a wedge over the 18th flag to 4 feet for birdie.

Maggert lost the lead for the first time since Thursday, but regained it and led by as many as two strokes on the back nine until bogeys on the 16th and 17th doomed his chances. Price also bogeyed the 17th, and the look on their faces showed their disgust.

As Duval knocked in his birdie putt, Price stood in the 18th fairway with hands on his hips, while Maggert folded his arms and stared at the ground.

"I just made a few too many bogeys," said Maggert, who finished with a 70 on the Mountain View course at Callaway Gardens.

Price caught a nasty lie in the first cut of rough on the 17th, not sure whether it would come out 6 feet long or 6 feet short. His chip came up short, and he failed to save par. He had a 68.

For Duval, the victory helps salvage a strange year.

He went on a vigorous fitness routine in the offseason but saw one victory after another slip away early in the year, either because of his putting or because of a bad shot at the worst time -- like his 6-iron into Rae's Creek at the Masters.

Right when his game was rounding into form, he injured his back after the U.S. Open. Still, he wound up in the final group at the British Open with Woods, although six strokes behind. He gave him a brief scare, but Woods went onto more history and Duval went on disabled list.

Flat on his back for six weeks, Duval missed the PGA Championship and the World Golf Championship event at Firestone, uncertain when he would return -- or if he could return.

He came back in style, with his 12th career victory to become only the third active player with that many wins in his 20s. The others are Woods (24) and Phil Mickelson, who won 16 times before turning 30 in June.

"This is a spectacular week for me," Duval said. "Everything that happened this year on the golf course, then to follow it up that disappointment with the injury, then to come back and do this ... it's an absolute dream."

He now goes to the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill, a tournament he has won twice in the last three years. Duval will finish the season playing with Woods in the World Cup in Argentina.

"I feel a lot better about him asking me to play," he said.

Maggert is 1-7 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

When he failed to save par from the first cut of rough on No. 8, he fell out of the lead for the first time since his 11th hole in the first round Thursday.

But he turned it around quickly, with birdies on three of the first four holes on the back nine to restore his lead. Maggert once again failed to birdie the par 5s on the back, and it caught up when him as he bogeyed the 16th and 17th.

Price got a couple of bad break that kept him from winning for the first time since the 1998 St. Jude Classic, a stretch of 38 tournaments. He caught a flyer from the first cut of rough on No. 9, an 8-iron from 158 yards uphill into a breeze that sailed over the green.

"It was like a rocket," Price said, incredible at how far it went. The ball went over the green, onto a cart path, past the Buick sedan on display and under an oak tree next to the clubhouse kitchen.

"The guys in the locker room had to take cover," he said.

He made bogey there, then hit his drive into rough on the par-5 11th and caught a branch trying to play into the fairway, taking a bogey.

Price and Maggert knew their fate, but Duval had no idea he had won until it was over. He made a conscious effort not to look at a scoreboard, and only realized his challengers bogeyed the 17th after he signed for his 65.

"When you're close and birdie your last two holes, usually you're in pretty good position," Duval said.

He hadn't been in that spot in a long time. Now he'll find out how often he can get there again.

Divots:

Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange, who finished at 291, made the cut in his fourth straight PGA Tour event, his longest streak since 1996. ... Callaway Gardens is the only "Buick" tournament Tiger Woods has not played. He was won the Buick Invitational in San Diego, played the Buick Open outside Detroit twice and the Buick Classic at Westchester in 1997. Woods had a sponsor's exemption to play the Buick Challenge in 1996, but cited fatigue and left before the pro-am. He won his tournament the next week in Las Vegas. ... Duval was the only player to have four straight rounds in the 60s.