A 68 in the second round and then a 63 in Round 4 last week at the Sony Open raised a lot of eyebrows. Hes been quietly on the road back since late September when he made his first cut of 2005 at the Valero Texas Open. He sent another shockwave through the golf world at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan in November when he opened with a 64 before ending the week tied for seventh.
However, he has suffered with a painful back ailment since 2000, compounding that with various other ailments, including wrist and shoulder problems and a case of positional vertigo which caused him to feel lightheaded and unstable on his feet.
Add to this a case of total burnout, resulting in a seven-month absence from the game in 2004, and youve got all the makings of a superstar gone into hiding.
During this time, his personal life was in upheaval also. An eight-year engagement ended in 2002, and in 2004 he met and married his wife, Susie. He moved across the continent from his boyhood home in Jacksonville, Fla., to Susies home in Denver ' a bit of a cultural shock, admittedly. And, he became an instant father, taking joyously to Susies three children.
Hes 34 now, and the wild ride that has been Duvals personal life trip the last three years has changed him drastically. Hes gone from No. 1 in the world to No. 492 at the beginning of last week. And though he still yearns to play golf and play it well, there is a man now inhabiting David Duvals body where just a short time ago there was a boy.
'As far as the game of golf, the competition, it has certainly moved way down the ladder of importance in my life,' he said at the Texas Open in September. 'I want to play, but I say now and I've said it a few times that if I had to make a choice, I'd go home and stay with my friends and family and you'd never see me again.
I enjoy playing golf, I really do. In some strange way, although I had not played much (in the last three years), it's been some of the more enjoyable times because it just goes to show you how hard the game can be. And you know, it makes you appreciate the skills the players have and the things they work on, the things they do because it's just a very, very hard game.
How hard? If anyone has learned, it must have been Duval. He really wasnt very good, from a personal standpoint, at being No. 1 back in 99. It probably came too easy for him. But he has been humbled the past 3-4 years, and now he is ready, hoping to resume what would be a most welcomed chance to go to the top of the game.
He has a jumpstart on it. His 63 last week was his best score in three years. He again had back problems on Monday, played the first round in a back brace and had to improvise a way to swing the club without further injuring himself. Consequently, he had to make a birdie on the final hole to make the cut at Sony. But he finished with a great kick, taking another giant step on what has been a long road back.
Duval rang up seven birdies in the Sunday round and played the front round in 30 strokes. 'I've been playing very well for a few days but didn't make a whole lot of putts,' he said afterwards. 'Today, I managed to hole a few good putts and got something good going. I was as aggressive out there as I could be.
'I don't want to sit there and hold on to a score. I wanted to keep forcing the issue.'
Duval wouldnt be playing the PGA Tour were it not for a five-year exemption he got for winning the British Open ' an exemption which expires this year. But that victory has meant that he had time to recover from his injuries, go through the life changes and develop a new swing.
And, it has given him time to go through the complete maturation process. Golf, he has learned, is only one part of life ' a life that must have many parts to function successfully.
Like anybody out here, said Duval last year, I put more into it than I should have. I put more value in it than I should have, but I obviously felt like I was - like the lower end of that of the players.
I really don't know how it will work or how I can do it, because I don't really feel like I could ever give back to this game and the people involved what it's given to me. But I'd like to at least start chipping it way at that, because it's blessed me more than I could have ever dreamed.
Email your thoughts to George White