Duval now lives in Denver with his wife and four children, and he recently sold his Ponte Vedra Beach home. But he said the emotion is different at Sawgrass than other PGA TOUR events.
'A little bit. Maybe not as much as I used to,' Duval said.
The golf was vaguely familiar as Duval, who won The Players Championship in 1999 to rise to No. 1 in the world, recovered from some errant tee shots to make three birdies on the back nine in an opening round of 1-under 71.
'I finally scored,' Duval said. 'For the round I played as far as ball-striking, it was one of the worst of the year.'
It looked worse than that at the beginning.
His first tee shot went well left, landing on a cart path and bouncing 25 yards into the woods. He hit over the pines to the fringe and two-putted for par. He hooked the next shot so badly that it hit a tree it went only 200 yards, yet he made par there.
'I was a little tight starting out,' Duval said. 'Fortunately for me, last week and this week I haven't had my back bothering me. It takes me a while to get fully loose, and I think I'm a little bit anxious starting out.'
Duval has made three of six cuts this year as his game slowly improves. He hasn't made the cut at Sawgrass since 2002, but he is off to good start.
Ben Crane wasn't sure what to expect when he teed off Thursday. His back has bothered him so much that he has played only four times this year, and withdrew in one of those tournaments (Buick Invitational) after the first round.
Finishing in good health was a good sign, even if he ended with a ball in the water for a double bogey.
'I haven't played golf for quite a while, being injured for most of the year,' Crane said after a 68. 'I'm just excited to be playing again, and excited to have played well.'
Crane's back problems stems from his swing, and he has been working with Titleist and swing coach Butch Harmon to alter a swing that won't put so much pressure on his back. It has taken him time -- a lot of time over shots -- to make the adjustments, and he's making progress.
Now he needs a steady diet of playing tournaments. The last stroke-play event he completed was the Bob Hope Classic the third week of January.
'I feel like my game is improving,' he said. 'But I don't know exactly where I'm at.'
James Driscoll is one of 15 players who made their first start in The Players Championship on Thursday, which includes an indoctrination to the infamous par-3 17th.
Driscoll came up short, into the water. From the drop area, he spun it down the slope and barely stayed on the green. Then he made a 45-foot putt to escape with only a bogey, on his way to a 71.
Others weren't so fortunate on the most high-charged hole in golf.
Scott McCarron and Bob Estes each hit two balls into the water and made 7s. Ted Purdy thought he was home free when he barely stayed on the green, but then he chipped through the green and into the water.
In all, 15 players hit into the water.
It's safe to say Sergio Garcia was not happy about a 2-under 70.
'To be sincere, I think I played like (dirt),' Garcia said. 'I didn't play very good at all. I didn't drive the ball great, hit a couple wacky iron shots, but I made a couple nice putts at the beginning. I guess I managed to get a half-decent round. Overall, not too bad.'
Garcia wasn't entirely blowing smoke. He hit only nine greens, but took only 24 putts.
Ultimately, a 70 is a 70 no matter what anyone says.
Two-time champion Steve Elkington withdrew Thursday because of a groin injury, and was replaced by Nathan Green. That made it three PGA TOUR rookies at The Players Championship, an unusually higher number because the bulk of the field comes from the top 125 on last year's money list.
J.B. Holmes got in by winning Phoenix, and made his TPC debut with a 71.
Camilo Villegas, 15th on the money list, was the first alternate who got in when Chris DiMarco withdrew. The Colombian lost his tee shot on No. 10 for double bogey and wound up with a 74, making it unlikely he will finish in the top five and earn enough money to get into the Masters.
Green was in the playoff at Torrey Pines won by Tiger Woods. Green opened with a 72.
Shigeki Maruyama withdrew because of a back injury. He opened with a 78. ... Ben Curtis and Craig Barlow were the only players who failed to register a birdie. Curtis shot 73, while Barlow shot 80. ... Ernie Els was 3 under and moving toward the leaders when he went bogey-double bogey on the 14th and 15th holes, shooting even-par 72. ... Greg Owen's, whose three-putt from 3 feet on the 17th hole cost him a victory at Bay Hill, needs to finish in the top 20 this week to have a chance at getting into the top 50 and earning a spot in the Masters. He opened with a 71.