The next few weeks could determine whether that can change.
Moments after his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach, Duval climbed into a van with his wife and four of their children as they left one beach resort for another. Next up is the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, a chance to build on a performance only he saw coming.
Duval opened with a 67 at Spyglass Hill, a course that used to give him fits even in the best of times. Asked if it was the first time he had broken 70 there, Duval responded in a text message, “Yes sir. Big things coming.”
For the rest of the week, his name stayed on the leaderboard.
And for the first time since the 2001 – the year of his last victory – his name was atop the leaderboard as the final group came to the 18th hole of a tournament. That changed when Dustin Johnson made birdie from the bunker for a one-shot victory, joining an elite list of back-to-back winners at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Duval finished more than a half-hour ahead of Johnson and had his own chance at birdie. His wedge came up a few paces short of staying on the tiny shelf, instead rolling down the ridge to the bottom of the green some 30 feet away.
“Any time you’re standing on the last hole with a chance to maybe get in the playoff or win a golf tournament, you have to look at it as a successful, competitive week – period,” he said.
The trick now is to keep going.
Perhaps because he had fallen so far, so much was made of Duval’s tie for second in the U.S. Open. Instead of building on that performance, he took the next two weeks off. In his final eight tournaments, Duval made only one cut and failed to keep his card when he finished 130th on the money list.
It was a small step forward, a big leap back.
At Bethpage Black, it was a matter of making several long putts to keep from sliding down the leaderboard. At Pebble Beach, it was more about the way he hit the ball so consistently over four days. Most putts at Pebble Beach, especially when the conditions are soft and bumpy in February, are almost made by accident.
“I got more satisfaction today out of hitting the golf shots through the course of 18 holes and controlling my golf ball in … somewhat difficult conditions,” Duval said. “Given the circumstances, to do that and to post a decent score, I feel good about that.”
He closed with a 69, one of only seven scores in the 60s in the final round when the pins were tucked, the ocean breeze was stiff and players no longer could lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.
Perhaps the most satisfying part was heading to the practice green after he signed his card to stay loose in case there was a playoff, with his two youngest children, Brayden and Sienna, watching from the edge of the green.
Duval earned $545,600 and has essentially the rest of the year to build on a good week.
He is playing primarily on sponsors’ exemptions this year, and while they should be readily available for a player who once was No. 1 in the world, Duval does not take them for granted.
“In a kind of strange way, it makes me proud,” Duval said. “I feel like I have given the folks who have given me starts this year good fire power for why they did it. That makes me feel good, too.”
More important was how he felt inside the ropes as the gap between Duval and the leaders kept shrinking on the back nine. Even as he hit a few errant tee shots down the stretch, Duval managed to escape with pars.
His best shot? A 7-iron to 10 feet on the par-3 17th for a birdie that put him in the game.
It felt like old times, yet when he finished the tournament, he kept his own expectations grounded.
“I feel like I’m getting back on top of everything how I want to,” Duval said. “This is what I expect of myself. I expect to play well. With that said, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a chance to win every week, but you expect to be in control most of the time with what you’re trying to do.
“I’m just going to go try to hit a lot of fairways in Mexico and hit a lot of greens,” he said. “It’s really a simple recipe. Successful golf is a very simple recipe. I will try to do that again next week.”