David Duval doesnt qualify as one of those out-of-nowhere stories this week at Bethpage Black. Hes captured a major championship already, has prevailed in 13 PGA Tour events and won four times in a three-month span 10 years ago on his way to spending 15 weeks as the worlds No. 1 ranked player.
A series of ups and downs ' mostly downs ' derailed his game since.
So here he is, with pins honoring the New York State Police and the Fire Department of New York on either side of his collar, in position to return Monday morning with a shot at a stunning U.S. Open victory. Hes 2 under through two holes of the final round, in a four-way tie for third place and thickly in the hunt.
Ive been there before, Duval said. Its not like a distant memory.
Not for him, it isnt.
But he wants his wife and kids to be able to see him competing for wins at the highest level now ' and not in the 10-year-old video footage that proves he was one of the games true greats for a brief while.
They havent seen me at my best, Duval said. I want them to.
Duvals longtime coach, Puggy Blackmon, insisted that this U.S. Open run is no fluke. Duval needed to shoot rounds of 66 and 69 at a qualifier just to get here, but his camp believes this could be the beginning of his golf revival.
I think hes back, Blackmon said, and everybodys starting to see that.
Find a way to hoist that silver chalice given to the champion on Monday, and everyone indeed will see that.
Duvals last win was the 2001 British Open, and inexplicably, his game went away almost instantly.
Duval is now wedged between a Korean amateur named Byun Jin Jae and an American named Josh McCumber in the world rankings, 17 pages after the spot where he used to hang out in his heyday. He hasnt had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in his past 105 events, going all the way back to the Invensys Classic in October 2002.
He showed a brief flash last summer at Royal Birkdale, getting within three shots of the lead after 36 holes of the British Open. But on an incredibly windy day, Duval moved the wrong way ' shooting 83.
No such disaster awaited in this third round. Duval shot his second straight even-par 70, moved up one spot on the leaderboard, and has as good a chance as anyone not named Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover, who left the course at nightfall Sunday knotted at 7 under.
Confidence and success, they are so closely entwined, said Duval, who made the cut this week for only the fifth time in 14 tries on the big tour. As youre not having success, youre losing confidence.
This week, hes having success.
Right on cue, hes gaining confidence.
Its been a long, hard process for him, Blackmon said. Hes worked very hard at it, and I think hes back. All the signs say hes validating that. If you go back and look over the last several weeks, San Antonio, he made a move there, Memorial, he shoots 5 under on the front nine and hits a guy in the head.
But this is huge, Blackmon added. His confidence level is back to where it used to be.
Duval was a bit of an enigmatic guy at his peak, someone who seemed to use the dark sunglasses wrapped around his head to shield both his eyes and his persona.
Marriage, kids, its softened him considerably. So, too, probably has years of losing.
He visited a Sept. 11 museum in New York this week, where his father-in-law ' a sculptor ' has an exhibit. Hes spent time chatting with policemen and firefighters over the past few days. Hes embraced the Bethpage crowd, and because his family has ties to upstate New York, its like those fans have embraced him right back.
Hes enjoying every step.
Id like to think I enjoyed it immensely, you know, eight, 10 years ago when I was on top of the world, Duval said. But with a life thats a little more complete, I probably, honestly, enjoy it more now. I have no less desire at this point than I did back then. However, I probably feel like I dont simply do it for myself anymore. And thats a nice feeling.