SOUTHPORT, England ' David Duval strolled up the final fairway on a cloudy day in dark sunglasses, waving to the cheering fans, back in a familiar place at the British Open.
OK, so it was only Friday. And most of the grandstand seats were empty. And this is Royal Birkdale, not Lytham.
But, for a guy who lost his way all those years ' even while finding himself away from the golf course ' it was like a homecoming.
Cmon, David! someone screamed.
This goes out to all those who wondered, Hey, whatever happened to David Duval? Well, hes back ' at least for a day ' and in the unlikeliest of places, the leaderboard of golfs oldest major.
For a while, Duval made it feel like 2001 all over again by shooting a 1-under 69 that left him just three strokes behind leader K.J. Choi.
Not that Duval is ready to reminisce. Hell leave that to 53-year-old Greg Norman, just one shot off the lead and an equally compelling figure.
Stepping back in time? Duval repeated a reporters question. No, Im looking to the future.
Good move. That has to be an improvement on what hes gone through the past six or seven years, though any discussion of Duvals descent comes with a very important caveat: Hes never been more content.
Duvals teenage stepsons, Deano and Nick, were out on the course with the guy who treats them like his own. Wife Susie was back home in Colorado, caring for the rest of their expansive family: another child from her first marriage, plus the two young children shes had with David since they tied the knot.
Its sort of like the Duval Bunch, except the husband came to the table alone, yearning for the comfort and validation of a family to call his own.
Im 100 percent happy, he said in the slowly dwindling light of a lengthy summer day. Im where I want to be and Im doing what I want to do. The difficulty now lies in actually leaving and going and playing. You know, Ive become a very good country club golfer. I enjoy carts and 2 1/2 -hour rounds and then going back home. It is sometimes quite hard getting on the road.
But dont mistake homesickness for a lack of resolve. Duval intends to get back where he was once: the worlds No. 1 player, standing on the 18th green at Lytham with the claret jug in his grasp, champion of the 2001 British Open.
No one could have known, but that moment was his peak; his career was about to go over a cliff. In 2002, Duval slipped to 80th in the PGA rankings and his earnings dipped by a staggering 70 percent. Over the next three years, he played in 49 official Tour events and made the cut in only eight. His paychecks for 2005 totaled all of $7,630.
After showing signs of breaking out of his slump, Duval appeared to take a major step backward this year. He came into Birkdale having played in 11 events and surviving exactly one cut.
Now, make it two.
Duval will be playing on the weekend at the British Open. Hell be in the fifth group from the end, in the mix for a major title, something that would have sounded ludicrous to suggest just two days ago.
Well, ludicrous to everyone but Duval.
'Ive been expecting to play quite well for some time, he said. Theres nothing thats made it click this week. Whats made it click is whats been going on for the last year and a half and the work Ive been putting in and the time Ive been using to practice.
To anyone who would listen, Duval kept insisting it was all coming together: the swing, the mental approach, everything he needed to get back to the top.
But first he needed some results to justify his confidence. That was the one thing sorely lacking.
So maybe this is the start of what his coach, Puggy Blackmon, said is going to be one of the greatest comebacks in history. Or maybe its just another tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.
But make no mistake: Duval wont be fulfilled as just another guy on the Tour, someone who makes cuts and a comfortable living and wins a tournament every now and then. He wants to get back to where he was.
I probably dont live it and die it like I may have back then, he said, referring to that era when he was an imposing, aloof golfer in the wraparound shades, staring down anyone who got in his way ' Tiger Woods included.
But I also havent sought a return to be mediocre, Duval went on. I know what greatness is about, and I know what it takes to have greatness. I wont settle for mediocrity.
Blackmon said the breakthrough is closer than anyone can see, even after the last two days at Birkdale.
Hes back, the coach said. Its not a matter of if, its a matter of when. Hes got that stare back.
If Blackmons prognostication comes to pass this weekend, it will be a more well-rounded person holding the claret jug. Duval didnt have a family of his own when he won at Lytham, which made the achievement feel a bit hollow. That might have planted the seeds of his downfall, revealing to him that other things were more important than just how far and straight he could hit a golf ball.
Duval found himself but lost his game.
Of course, theres no reason he cant have both.
Hes got a super family, Blackmon said, pointing to Nick and Deano, standing along a railing behind the 18th hole. Ive never seen him happier. Hes playing because he wants to play. Hes a total human being now.
Duval has already planned out what hell do after the next triumph, the one hes been waiting for since a victory in Japan at the end of 2001. In fact, he knows what hell do after the next two.
Ive told my wife, Duval said, that shell get the first trophy ' and the kids will get the second.