ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It was not the start David Duval was looking for when he set out for his Scottish fortnight.
From the first tee at Gullane Golf Club, the former world No. 1 launched his opening effort 10 yards right of the fairway. After a few moments of searching, he returned to the tee and sent his next shot left of the fairway.
“There were 10 guys waiting on the tee [to tee off behind him]. I felt terrible for him,” said caddie Ron “Bambi” Levin. “But he turned to me and said, ‘Let’s shoot under par.’”
Duval would make a quadruple bogey-8 at the first, and another 8 at the last for a first-round 77 en route to missing the cut and finishing 153rd out of 156 players at the Scottish Open.
That kind of performance would have sent the old Double D, the one who won a major and 13 PGA Tour titles and ascended to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, into a myopic fit.
But the 43-year-old version takes a much more measured approach to golf, if not a life fully lived.
“I just figured, let’s just go and get it back,” he shrugged on Sunday at St. Andrews.
Time and terrible play will do that to anyone, but when it comes to Duval the transformation from icy assassin to endearing figure is more nuanced than that.
This is, after all, the man who reached the top of the mountain and was underwhelmed. After winning the Open Championship in 2001 at Royal Lytham, his last Tour victory, he began a slow competitive spiral.
Since 2003 Duval, who now spends more time working as a Golf Channel analyst than he does playing tournaments, finished inside the top 200 in earnings just three times, and with dwindling Tour status he now plays an increasingly limited schedule with just four starts this season.
But with that competitive exile has come balance off the course, first when he married his wife, Susie, and now as a father of five.
All along he’s wanted to play well, wanted to feel the pressure of a major championship Sunday, but while the mind has been willing the body has failed him. At least until Sunday at St. Andrews, where he played his first 14 holes in 6 under par for a 5-under 67, his lowest round at the Open since that 2001 victory.
It was a wave of momentum he picked up on Saturday after he had three-putted the 17th hole to drop outside the cut, but he nearly drove the green at No. 18 for a birdie to make the cut at the Open for the first time since 2008.
“Ron [Levin] asked me, ‘You want to hit a 3-wood? Think you can get a 3-wood there?’” Duval said of his tee shot at the 18th hole. “I said, ‘I don’t know, but I know I can get a driver there.’
“I’m going to hit it right of that flag and if I hit in those houses over there, [double bogey] doesn’t hurt me. I have to make a [birdie]. It was nice to do.”
For a moment it was at least a shadow of the Old David, calculated, fearless, focused; shades of the guy who once shot 59 at the Humana Challenge and 65 on Saturday at Lytham to win a claret jug. But then the New David resurfaces with a nostalgic twist to his Scottish sojourn.
“Links golf is my favorite thing to do, just puts a smile on my face when I'm out there playing. The challenges of it I find intriguing, frustrating, uplifting, all these things, and so to get to do it for two straight weeks, it's a blessing as a golfer, regardless of who you are,” Duval said. “I've been on St. Andrews since last Saturday every day playing golf. Who gets to say that, really? It's pretty cool.”
What Duval has lost in competitive purpose he’s made up for with a healthy dose of personal perspective as evidenced by his response when asked if he would play next week’s RBC Canadian Open if he were able to finish inside the top 10 at St. Andrews (he’s currently tied for 24th).
He explains that he already has a trip planned to vacation in Italy with his wife after the Open.
“Glenn Abbey [the site of the Canadian Open] or Florence with my wife? Pretty easy decision,” he smiled.
It’s also a pretty good indication of how priorities have made the New David so much more endearing.