Duval not giving up on his game

By John FeinsteinMay 1, 2014, 6:42 pm

David Duval understands completely. He knows when tournament directors turn down his request for a sponsor exemption to their event it isn’t because they don’t like him or don’t respect who he once was as a player.

“The truth is I’ve played myself into this position,” he said recently. “It’s up to me to try to play my way out of it. But it’s not easy.”

It isn’t easy when you have to depend on the kindness of others to get a chance to play. But that’s where Duval is at age 42 – 13 years removed from winning the British Open and 15 years after he was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Duval has teed it up seven times since the wraparound season began last October. He played once in October; twice in November; didn’t play in January; played twice in February; once in March and once in April. It’s likely he won’t play at all in May.

Duval won 13 times on Tour before he turned 30 – including the 2001 British Open – his most important and, as it has turned out, final victory. Since then he has been golf’s mystery man, someone who went from thinking of himself as someone who could look Tiger Woods in the eye to becoming virtually invisible in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Duval has given a lot of thought to what happened to him after his signature victory at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He had been close in other majors – most notably the 1998 Masters where he was sitting in the Bobby Jones cabin on Sunday with then-Augusta National chairman Jack Stephens as Mark O’Meara lined up his birdie putt on the 18th green. At that moment, O’Meara, Fred Couples and Duval were all tied at 7 under par and, unless O’Meara made the putt, the three were heading for a playoff.

“No need to worry here, David,” Stephens said. “Nobody ever makes this putt.”

O’Meara made the putt.

“The second the ball disappeared Mr. Stephens stood up, put his hand out and said, ‘Look forward to seeing you next year,’” Duval said, able to laugh at the memory now. “Then he walked out the door.”

Golf had not only been Duval’s passion as a kid, it had been his best friend. When he was 10, his older brother Brent died of aplastic anemia, a disease that attacks the bone marrow. David donated his bone marrow to Brent but the operation didn’t save his brother. With his family in tatters, David found solace on the golf course.

“I didn’t need anyone in order to go play, hit balls or just spend hours in a bunker,” he said. “I was a pretty good baseball player, but you need others to play baseball. Golf was where I went to escape. Fortunately, I was pretty good at it.”

Good enough to be a four-time All American at Georgia Tech and then to find stardom on Tour not long after turning pro. Duval had seven second-place finishes before he got his first win on Tour, but when he finally broke though in the fall of 1997 at Kingsmill, he proceeded to win three tournaments in a row. Early in 1999 he shot 59 on the last day of the Bob Hope Desert Classic and soon after that he was ranked No. 1 in the world.

“I honestly thought back then that I could compete with Tiger on a regular basis,” he said. “Not beat him all the time, obviously, but some of the time. I thought my entire game – physical and mental – was in the ballpark with his.”

He paused. “Turned out I was wrong.”

Like everyone else in golf, Duval was blown away by what Woods accomplished in winning his Tiger Slam in 2000 and 2001. Even so, Duval’s win at Lytham should have been a beginning, not an ending. And yet, Duval clearly wasn’t the same after that victory.

“A lot of things happened,” he said. “When I won, it was thrilling, absolutely fantastic. But not long afterwards I realized I didn’t feel any different about who I was or about my life than I had before I won. It was an existential type of thing, you know, is that all there is? I thought my life should be different – feel different – and it really didn’t. Something went out of me there.”

Soon after, happiness intervened. He met Susan Persichitte while waiting for a table in a Denver restaurant and was smitten instantly. They were married, he adopted her three children and they had two of their own. No longer was golf Duval’s best friend or his No. 1 priority.

His game – when he played – spiraled. There were some injuries thrown into the mix, too. Duval had a five-year exemption after his British Open win. When that was up he was able to use two more yearlong exemptions because he was in the top 25 on the career money list. After that he began to depend on sponsor exemptions.

There were spasms of good play: his out-of-nowhere tie for second place at the 2009 U.S. Open when he came into the championship ranked 882nd in the world. There was a second place at Pebble Beach the following year, which helped him get his exempt status back at the end of that season. Since then, there have been very few encouraging moments. Which is why Duval understands when tournament directors turn him down for sponsor exemptions in spite of his past status as a star.

“David will always be someone who I give serious consideration to,” said Kym Hougham, tournament director for the Wells Fargo Classic. “For one thing, he’s David Duval. For another, he’s one of those guys who treated people well when he was on his way up the ladder and that’s something you remember. I get a lot of guys who are struggling asking for sponsor exemptions who were impossible to deal with when they were going well. That’s an easy no.

“David’s a hard no. This year, it was close but I had to say no. We’d given him exemptions two of the last four years. I like to use as many spots as I can for guys with local ties. I had three local guys (out of four spots) and David just didn’t make the cut. Doesn’t mean he won’t next year if he asks. I called and left him a message telling him I was sorry he hadn’t made it. He actually called me back to thank me for calling. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Duval understands the position that Hougham and other tournament directors are in. His game has been MIA for a while. And yet, he believes it’s still out there somewhere.

“I feel better about my game right now than I have in a long time,” he said just before the start of the Zurich Classic. “Problem is it’s tough to prove that if you aren’t playing. I’m playing this week and then may not play for five weeks.”

Duval was hoping to finish top 10 in New Orleans so he wouldn’t need a sponsor exemption in Charlotte. He played well for three days and was T-12 going into Sunday. But a Sunday 73 dropped him to a tie for 25th place. Even so, it was his best finish since a tie for 23rd in Las Vegas in 2011.

Now, though, he has to wait for another chance to play. He will try to qualify for the U.S. Open and play in Memphis in June. After that, he doesn’t know.

“I’m not ready to give up,” he said. “If I honestly thought I was done, I’d just stay home. But I don’t think I am.”

Here’s hoping he’s right.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”