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No doubt now: Duval a winner

A month ago, David Duval had never won a PGA Tour event, and he heard the whispers of those who wondered whether he could ever end up on top. After all, he had finished second several times, often coming apart on Sundays.

Seems rather silly now, especially after Duval's run to end the official 1997 golf season. Duval won his last three starts and earned $1.269-million. He was 32nd on the money list before winning the Oct. 12 Michelob Championship in a playoff, which he followed with another playoff victory at the Disney World Classic.

Then came another big payday at the Tour Championship Sunday. The PGA Tour-record $720,000 Duval earned vaulted him from No. 9 on the money list to No. 2 behind Tiger Woods. And he became the first player to win three consecutive PGA Tour starts since Nick Price in 1993.

"I didn't have expectations of what it would feel like or how I might act or accept it," said Duval, who turns 26 Sunday. "As much as anything, it boils down to I expected myself to win golf tournaments. It wasn't as overwhelming to me as maybe it could have been to somebody else.

"I had been competitive for a couple of years and it just didn't work out. This is cool, this is neat. Don't get me wrong. It sure beats finishing second. But having been there often, I kind of have a feeling of what it would be like."

Duval rallied from a two-stroke deficit over the final six holes to snag the tournament from Davis Love III _ and save the 1997 money title for Woods, who would have been passed had Love won.

ANOTHER RALLY: Duval's father, Bob, grabbed the 31st and final spot in this week's Senior Tour Championship without even playing. Duval had been 26th on the money list with two tournaments to go, but didn't qualify for either. So he had to wait it out. More important, by finishing in the top 25, the older Duval is exempt for next season on the Senior PGA Tour.

"I'm more excited for him than for me," David Duval said. "He was a conditionally exempt player, he didn't know when he was going to play. He had to go through Monday qualifying on several occasions. He had to kind of sweat it out.

"I think it's a heck of a story, leaving a golf shop after 28 years, going through qualifying, and then to earn exempt status. It's incredible."

BIG MONEY: Prize money has grown so significantly that we almost become numb to the numbers. But the announcement last week of the World Golf Championships, to first be played in 1999, means the rich will get richer.

The World Golf Championships will offer a match-play tournament, an invitational featuring Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup members and a Stroke Play Championship. Each will offer $4-million purses. Another event is expected to be added to the series.

Add to that the Mercedes Championships in January, the Players Championship in March, the Tour Championship in November and the four major championships, and that is 10 events for the big-name players to participate in already.

"I don't know how the small markets can compete," PGA Tour player Brad Faxon said. "There are tournaments struggling to make a $1-million purse. I don't know how they'll make $3-million."

AROUND GOLF: Woods has earned a dubious distinction by being nominated for the Smirnoff Get Real Index, presented to the most pretentious sportsman of the year. Woods is in the running because he signed an endorsement deal with American Express while being a part owner of the All-Star Cafe, a restaurant that does not accept American Express credit cards. Dennis Rodman "won" last year 's award. Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, site of this summer's U.S. Senior Open won by Graham Marsh, will host the 2003 U.S. Open. The course was the site of the 1928 U.S. Open won by Johnny Farrell in a 36-hole playoff over Bobby Jones. The LPGA Tour will play 42 events in 1998 with a record purse of $31.3-million. The first two will be in Florida, starting with the HealthSouth Inaugural at Grand Cypress in Orlando.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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