Winless in seven years, laboring at No. 233 on the money list and playing his final PGA Tour event of the year, Duval put together a strong round of 3-under 69 at the Ginn Ocean Hammock Resort that left him only two shots behind Ryan Palmer going into the weekend.
Palmer missed only one green on the back nine for a 71, putting him at 6-under 138.
Robert Allenby, at No. 30 the highest-ranked player at this Fall Series event, had a 71 and was one shot out of the lead along with Peter Lonard (69), rookie Michael Letzig (74) and Ken Duke (69).
Duval, who has made only four cuts in his 19 starts on the PGA Tour this year, had three birdies and an eagle during a six-hole stretch on the front nine, which he capped off by chipping in on the par-5 ninth. He recovered from a bogey on the 11th with a birdie at No. 14, and finished with his seventh round in the 60s in his last 10 rounds on Tour.
His best finish this year was a tie for 22nd at the Viking Classic, but he really showed glimpses of form at Royal Birkdale. Duval was three shots out of the lead, until a rough start sent him to an 83 in the third round.
Maybe thats why hes not reading too much into his 36-hole start.
Im not thinking (about contending), not at this point, Duval said. And I wont tomorrow. Those feelings come back when you get to the back nine Sunday and you have a chance.
He loves this kind of weather, though. It was blustery when he captured the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001, and it was the same at The Players Championship and the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua, two of his victories in 1999.
Ive always enjoyed that kind of stuff, Duval said. What it does is makes you pay attention to hitting the golf ball solidly and thats whats most important.
Even if he doesnt win, Duval can play next year through an exemption for career money.
Palmer is not that fortunate. He is 143rd on the money list, and only the top 125 keep their cards. The final tour event is next week at Disney, where Palmer earned his lone PGA Tour victory.
Im trying not to get ahead of myself and trying to stay calm, Palmer said. Hopefully, karma keeps going that way. If I keep my card, unbelievable awesome. Whats keeping me calm and relaxed this week is that Im not thinking about the money list.
Lonard and Allenby know something about windy weather from their roots in Australia, and that helped guide them through a day in which the scoring average was more than one shot higher than the opening round.
This course is long, firm and bouncy, and any time you put Australians on courses that are firm and bouncy usually the Australians play well, Lonard said. Windy conditions and bouncy conditions are right up our alley.
Allenby, who overcame a four-putt at the 18th green and a three-putt when he made the turn to the first green, said the course has turned out to be more difficult than the other five Fall Series venues that so far have yielded an average winning score of 18 under par.
The exception was Turning Stone, where Allenby finished one shot behind.
There are a lot of difficult holes out there and with the wind blowing the way it is, its going to dry up and get even tougher, he said.