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Duval proves he was capable

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Oh, he's lived with that stupid nonsense for so long.

"Nice victory at the Bob Hope Classic, David. But when are you ever going to win a major?"

"Nice career, Duval. But don't you have to win a major to be considered truly great?"

"Tiger has six majors and you don't have any, David. What does he have that you lack?"

Like David Duval needed to be reminded that of all his victories, none came in a major. Remember, he's the son of a pro golfer. He knew his resume was missing a major. All those times he fell just short, he knew what he was missing without anyone asking, "So how did it feel to have one arm in the green jacket, David?"

"He's a tremendous competitor and he realizes that to have a great career you have to win a major," said his father, Bob Duval. "He has had a great career in every other way."

He let it get to him. No doubt about it. He and the people close to him acknowledged as much.

"Every time he goes into a major he feels like he can win it," said Duval's fiancee, Julie MacArthur. "Every time it passed by him, he feels like he failed."

Fortunately, all that nonsense ended on the 18th hole at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, when Duval walked down the fairway with a three-stroke lead, an army of fans behind, swallowing him up and all but carrying him on their shoulders to the British Open victory and his first major championship.

Not that he needed anyone's help.

On a weekend when nearly everyone else faltered in some way at some point - Tiger Woods had two unplayable lies Saturday, Colin Montgomerie fell from the lead to a tie for 13th and Ian Woosnam somehow began the final round with too many clubs -- Duval never wavered.

He shot 65 on Saturday, one off the course record, and followed that up with a final-round 67 bettered by only two players in the field. He put up three birdies on the front nine that put him in the lead to stay. He finished at 10-under for the tournament, winning by three strokes.

He drove well. He putted well. He avoided the bunkers and found the green.

But most importantly, he finally realized how incredibly insignificant all this talk about majors really is.

"I felt a lot more calm this week and today than I did in '98, and maybe even more so than I did even at Augusta this year, even though I felt really good there," Duval said. "I think some of it is -- you know, you get four chances (to win a major) each year and you have to have a lot of things go right those weeks to even get into position to win the golf tournament. Then you have to do it. There's no way around it. You have to do it.

"And I think as much as anything I realized today that it's just a silly old game, just playing a game of golf. It sounds stupid, but I kind of thought to myself at times, 'it's funny how much is made about (majors) because we are playing a game.' I've made it bigger than it is, too. Maybe that is some of the reason I feel good today, that maybe I finally realize it is just a game."

That whole talk about Duval not having what it takes to win a major was ridiculous, anyway. The best golfer to never win a major? Hey, there are a lot of golfers and only so many majors to go around, so there always are some superb talents who have to get stuck with that title (raise your hand, Monty, we have a present for you). The only club less exclusive than that comes with a 60-day guarantee to a full head of hair.

Get real. Duval sets a rookie record for earnings on the PGA tour, wins three in a row at age 25, wins the Players Championship against virtually the same competition as a major, and he doesn't have what it takes to win a major?

At the age of 9, he donated bone marrow to his brother, and yet he supposedly didn't have the stomach to win a stupid golf tournament?

He endured the agony of that procedure only to see his brother die anyway, and then some rich folks sitting around the 19th hole decide he didn't have the requisite mental toughness?

Give me a break. Duval had what it took to win a major all along. He had it in his bag. He had it in his heart. And he had it in his head. It just took awhile to realize it.

He did at Lytham, and because he did, his usual stone face finally gave way to a smile as broad as a fairway. And when he finally took off those trademark wraparounds, his eyes shined as bright as the silver claret jug that now holds his name.

"I got a good look at the jug and I saw Tiger's name," a beaming Duval said, savoring the long-desired moment. "I like the position of my name under his. It feels like it's in the right place."