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They Dont Forget the Champions

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SANDWICH, England (AP) -- He wore wraparound shades and a stoic expression.
 
He hit a snap hook into the waist-high weeds.
 
The two dozen fans who gathered around the 18th tee at Royal St. George's had no trouble recognizing the former champion, only the shots coming off his club.
 
'Man,' David Duval moaned as his 2-iron took a hard turn to the left and into the rough. 'I did the same thing yesterday.'
 
Two years ago, he could do little wrong.
 
Duval not only won the British Open for his first major championship, he won over the golf-savvy gallery with an acceptance speech that was humble and heartfelt -- a man in awe not of himself but of the silver claret jug he cradled.
 
Except for the sunglasses and steely demeanor, so much has changed.
 
Duval held court with a small group of reporters, his back stiffening as he braced for another round of questions he hears every time he plays.
 
What's wrong with your game?
 
'The scores haven't been there for me,' Duval said. 'I'm right on the edge of doing what I know I can do.'
 
Either that, or he's on the edge of a cliff.
 
So much more was expected when Duval, the only other player besides Tiger Woods to be ranked No. 1 in the world the last five years, closed with rounds of 65-67 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes to claim his first major championship.
 
His only trophy since then was the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan.
 
He has gone from sixth in the world ranking to No. 87, prompting one prominent player to jokingly refer to him as 'Mr. Free Fall.'
 
Most weeks for Duval end on Friday, unless the cut isn't made until Saturday (Pebble Beach, Palm Springs) or the second round is delayed by rain (Masters). He has played 15 times and made four cuts. That includes a first-round loss in the Match Play Championship.
 
Woods, who went three months and a whopping four tournaments without winning, was asked at the U.S. Open how he would define a slump.
 
'Someone who completely loses their game,' he said.
 
Sound familiar?
 
Finding the cause for Duval's misery on the golf course remains a mystery.
 
There have been a litany of problems outside the ropes, such as the breakup with his fiancee of eight years, and his legal battle with Titleist over a broken contract. Add to that injuries that ranged from tendinitis in his wrist to vertigo.
 
From a golf standpoint, it's no secret. Duval gets to the first tee and two questions immediately come to mind -- is this going left or right?
 
'It's no fun,' Duval said.
 
Is he lazy?
 
That didn't appear to be the case at the Masters. Instead of cleaning out his locker after missing the cut, Duval spent nearly two hours on the practice range. He has become increasingly frustrated with reporters who find fault with his game without ever watching.
 
'I'm out there pursuing excellence,' he said during the U.S. Open. 'And I have a hard time explaining that to those who aren't.'
 
Winning his first major did not make him any less motivated. The claret jug only made him realize that fulfillment in life must come from some other source. That led some to believe golf is no longer important.
 
'I love to play this game more than anything I do,' Duval said. 'To win is the ultimate achievement. But if your goal is to find fulfillment, this is the wrong place to be seeking it.'
 
Where should it be found?
 
'That's for each individual to figure out,' he replied.
 
Meantime, even his peers are puzzled. From the time he was a rookie in 1995, Duval had never finished lower than 11th on the money list.
 
'I played a lot of golf with him when he was at the peak of his game, ranked No. 1 in the world,' U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk said. 'He's too good. He's got too much talent. He's got too much drive. He's had a real high peak, now he's had his lowest valley.
 
'But he's going to climb out of it,' Furyk added. 'I don't know exactly when that's going to be, but I think he'll be just find. And he's going to start winning golf tournaments again.'
 
There is no reason to believe this will be the week.
 
Even so, Duval had a certain calmness, if not confidence, about him as he walked along the fairways of Royal St. George's.
 
Unlike most weeks, Duval sensed respect from the gallery, not sympathy. Mark O'Meara, who won in 1998 at Royal Birkdale, once told Duval that British fans never forget an Open champion. No matter the state of his game, they remember four magical days in July.
 
'Nobody has forgotten,' Duval said. 'They know that I'm a former champion, and I'm treated that way. I've won here. And that's a nice thing.'
 
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