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Durant bigger than 'Monster'

After the Genuity Championship at Doral, the hottest name on tour isn't Tiger or Davis, but Joe.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 5, 2001


MIAMI -- The hottest player in golf is not the superstar they paid seven figures to play in the Persian Gulf, nor the one who has played in the last group for three straight tournaments.

Nope, this guy is just an average Joe, a guy who once quit golf to sell insurance (or try to,) a guy who went to work in a golf store stacking boxes.

He's not looking ordinary now.

Joe Durant shot 7-under-par 65 on Sunday to come from four shots back to win the Genuity Championship at Doral's "Blue Monster" course, claiming his second victory in three weeks on the PGA Tour and earning a spot in next month's Masters.

In his first tournament since blitzing the desert at the Bob Hope Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., where he played 90 holes in 36 under, Durant went 67-65 on the weekend to secure the third victory of his career How do you like that, Tiger Woods?

"It's a dream come true," said Durant, 36, who finished two shots ahead of third-round leader Mike Weir. "I've wanted to play the tour since I was 7. To play this well is beyond what I imagined. I thought I was good enough to win out here, but until you do, you never know. But the last couple of weeks have just been unbelievable for me."

Durant, who finished at 270, 18 under, earned $810,000 from the $4.5-million purse and jumped to No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list with $1,493,267, a full 17 spots and nearly $1-million ahead of Woods.

Of course, Woods has no money woes -- he was collecting a reported $2-million appearance fee at the Dubai Desert Classic -- but he has two fewer victories in 2001 than Durant, the only player this year with multiple wins.

"I don't know how long that will last," Durant said.

Durant also blew past Davis Love, who sat atop the money list and was in contention for his fourth straight tournament. Love, however, could do no better than 71 on a blustery day.

Of the top 11 finishers, only four broke 70, and Durant had the best round by two shots.

"Obviously Joe played a phenomenal round of golf in those conditions; a 65 is a hell of a score," Weir said. "My hat is off to him. He played a great round of golf."

Durant started the day four shots behind Weir, but forged into contention with an eagle at the first hole and a birdie at the second. With two more birdies on the front nine and three more on the back, Durant had given himself a comfortable cushion by the time he reached the 18th tee, where he made his only bogey of the weekend.

That was too late for the rest of the contenders. Weir shot 71 to finish second and earn $486,000. Vijay Singh, with 67, moved into a tie for third with Hal Sutton (72) and Jeff Sluman (70).

"It doesn't surprise me in the least," tour player and close friend Skip Kendall said of Durant's performance. "I think actually it has been a long time coming for him to do this. Joe is probably one of, if not the best, ball-strikers on the tour. It was just a matter of him taking advantage of opportunity."

He almost didn't. Durant turned pro in 1987, but by 1991 was sick of the game. He quit to become an insurance salesman, and didn't sell a single policy. Needing an income, he went to work at an Edwin Watts store near his home in Pensacola. A few months later, he was yearning to play golf again.

But he vowed to do it with a better attitude, courtesy of his wife, Tracey.

"She put the fear of God in me," Durant said. "She said, 'Hey, look, if you do not go out with a better attitude, we are not going to do this.' I promised her, if I was going to play again, I was going to really have a positive attitude. If I played bad, I was not going to bring it home with me, leave the golf at the course.

"My wife is a very competitive person. She played college golf. She knows the routine. She knew I was being a wimp, basically. She did not want to put up with it anymore. I promised her I would not do it. More times than not I've kept my promise."

Durant attributes his improved play to better putting, and it doesn't hurt that he led the field in each of his last two tournaments in greens hit in regulation, including 60 of 72 at Doral.

It's a long way from putting clubs in a box to swinging them so proficiently.

"I just dreamed about getting back and playing golf, but certainly not at this level," he said. "From working at a warehouse, which I wasn't happy doing, to back playing golf and doing what I love to do. ... I was just so happy to be back out on a golf course."

NOTE: Durant qualified for the Masters in one of the last opportunities to do so: by being among the top three money-earners through the Genuity Championship. Steve Stricker, who is third, also qualified in this manner. No. 2 Davis Love had already secured a spot in the field. The top 50 players in the world ranking through Sunday also get an invitation to Augusta National. The only other way in now is with a victory at the Players Championship in three weeks.

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