Duval refused to let the British Open turn into the shootout everyone expected, seizing control Sunday with a rock-solid game that carried him to a 4-under 67 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and gave him his first major championship.
Maintaining a stoic demeanor behind his wraparound shades to the very end, Duval removed his sunglasses, tipped his cap to the adoring crowd and finally walked off the 18th green of a major as a champion.
He finished at 274 for a three-stroke victory over Niklas Fasth of Sweden, the only one among a long list of proven players who sustained any kind of challenge.
Former Masters champion Ian Woosnam might have been on that list. But after nearly making an ace on the opening hole, the Welshman realized he had an extra club in his bag and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
That might have made Duval's task a little tougher at the end.
Haunted by the costly mistake, Woosnam finished with a 71 and was four strokes back at 278 along with five others.
Three of them were major championship winners Woosnam, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els.
Duval takes his place among them.
The only player besides Tiger Woods to be ranked No. 1 in the past three years, Duval expected to be there all along.
He carried some baggage to Royal Lytham four chances at Augusta National, two at the U.S. Open and even last year at St. Andrews.
He flew home from that British Open with Woods and got a good look at the claret jug. On Sunday, he never really let it out of his grasp.
"It's kind of a big relief," he said. "It's so pressure-packed in major championships, and then you put it on a golf course like this, where any minor mistake is magnified and it makes the pressure even greater. You just can't let up, and I didn't let up today."
He becomes the sixth American in the past seven years to win golf's oldest championship.
Another major championship passed without Woods in serious contention.
Like so many others, Woods couldn't make enough birdies on a firm, fast links course littered with pot bunkers. He took triple bogey on the par-3 12th and wound up nine strokes behind in a tie for 25th, his worst finish in a major in nearly four years.
"I'm not thrilled that I wasn't able to contend down the stretch, but I had my chances out there," Woods said after a 71.
He wasn't alone.
Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland was at 8-under par and rolling
until his tee shot rolled into a pot bunker on No. 17 and he took double bogey.
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain also got to 8 under until he fell back with back-to-back bogeys. The only other American to make a move was Billy Mayfair, who finished with eight straight pars and wound up in large group at 278.
All of them had their hands full.
From the time Duval holed an 18-foo birdie putt on No. 3, then birdied the back-to-back par 5s to take a two-stroke lead, he never gave anyone else much hope.
It certainly didn't start out that way.
This was anyone's Open on a sunny, breezy day off the Lancashire coast. The stage was set for an 18-hole shootout with four co-leaders the most at a major in 23 years and 28 players within five shots of the lead.
Among them was Woods.
He worked feverishly on the practice range Saturday night to work out the kinks in his swing and appeared to be positioned for a comeback when he birdied three straight holes and had an 8-foot putt for another on No. 7 that would have put him two behind.
The putt swirled over the lip, and Woods was furious.
His chances vanished for good with a triple bogey on the par-3 12th. After hitting into the waist-high weeds, he flew his next shot over the green and 40 yards down the fairway. His pitch rolled into a pot bunker, and he two-putted for a 6.
Colin Montgomerie, cheered on by a British gallery desperate to see him finally succeed in a major, dropped two shots on the first five holes and never recovered. He finished at 72.
Jesper Parnevik came to Royal Lytham with black-and-white striped pants. It wasn't long before he found himself in jail. He bogeyed the third and fifth holes to fall too far behind, and finished the day behind bars the fence down the 18th fairway.
The charge came from an unlikely source.
Fasth earned his PGA Tour card for the '98 season, and in 15 tournaments made just three cuts. His best finish was a tie for 30th.
Teeing off nearly two hours before Duval, Fasth made birdies on four of his first seven holes. When his 10-foot putt dropped on No. 7, he pumped his fist twice, aware that he was in the lead.
Fasth dropped his only stroke on No. 14 when he had to play sideways out of a pot bunker, but he was rock-solid down the stretch with four pars.
"I played very well and gave it all I had," Fasth said.
He played the final round with Paul Lawrie, who came from 10 strokes down at Carnoustie in 1999 and wound up winning in a playoff after Jean Van de Velde's tragic collapse on the 72nd hole.
Duval had a few shaky moments down the stretch, but nothing so drastic.
He recovered from a drive into the right rough on No. 14 by reaching the front of the green for a two-putt par, drove into the left rough on the next hole and chased his approach up to the green to 15 feet.
Clarke was only two strokes behind until he chopped up the 17th by finding all of Lytham's elements a bunker off the tee, the rough after taking a drop from the grandstand, a pot bunker by the green and a short miss that gave him double bogey.
Once Duval had his par on the 15th, he was three strokes ahead with three to play, and a tournament official began engraving his name on the claret jug.
Duval was in that position at the Masters in 1998, with one big exception this time, he was the lst man on the course. No one could snatch it away, like Mark O'Meara did at Augusta that year with birdies on three of the last four holes.
Duval had two other chances at a green jacket, but couldn't catch Vijay Singh last year or Woods three months ago.
He was close to the lead after 36 holes in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in '99 and Southern Hills last month and shot him out of it on Saturday. A year ago at St. Andrews, he was the only other guy besides Woods who had a chance to win, cutting a six-hole deficit in half after eight holes.
The lasting image is Duval flailing away in the Road Hole bunker.
He buried that thought for good, along with any questions whether he could win a major.
By Doug Ferguson
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