Another Major Conspiracy

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U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Could Fate and Redemption have a little something special in store for David Duval this week?
 
The two have conspired already this year to benefit Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak, awarding each of them major victories on the LPGA Tour. Perhaps theyre working in tandem once again for the third part of this trilogy.
 
David Duval
David Duval made his first cut in a major since the 2002 PGA Championship.
Duval, like Webb and Pak, is a major champion whose game went astray. Only, Webbs game left town and Paks game left the state; Duvals game, meanwhile, left for who-knows-where, got all turned around, and ended up staying a spell with Rod Serling.
 
It appears now that it may be back ' to a certain degree.
 
Duval is no where near the player who won 13 times on the PGA TOUR, including the 2001 Open Championship, and was ranked No. 1 in the world. But neither is he the same guy who couldnt break 80 if he only had to play 16 holes.
 
Friday was a good indication of that. A day after making four consecutive bogeys down the stretch to shoot 7-over 77, Duval made two birdies and no bogeys over his first nine holes.
 
Heading to his second nine, the front nine, Duval was at 5 over for the tournament and tied for 21st place. He then picked up another shot with a beautiful 12-foot, left-to-right curler for birdie at the par-4 first. After a par at the second, he made a 20-footer for birdie at the par-3 third to get to 3 over, within four of the lead.
 
That really pumped up the crowd, who had already given Duval a rounding ovation as he approached the third green.
 
They really seemed behind me, Duval said. Ive always enjoyed playing up in this area. I think they get to see me a lot, and they know Im coming back and playing well, and theyre pulling for me.
 
The cheers turned to groans on the par-4 fourth, when Duval hit his tee shot into the right rough. The marshal yelled, Fore, right! Violently! Violently! Though, he got a little too excited and exaggerated a bit.
 
Duvals ball did finish in the second cut of primary rough, but he was easily able to hack it out, back into the fairway, from where he hit his third shot to 15 feet. Duval converted the huge putt to save par and salvage his momentum.
 
As he readied to walk to the fifth tee, his playing competitor, Colin Montgomerie, joked: David, dont go away. Can you knock mine in?
 
Monty made a funny.
 
It was a light-hearted moment on a day in which Montgomerie spent the better part of his round surveying the gallery, seemingly in anticipation of hecklers, or maybe searching for blondes; while Duval, who received a massive amount of support, stared mostly at the ground and at the sky, trying to avoid Oakleys-to-eyeball contact, for the most part.
 
Duvals hot putting continued on the par-5 fifth hole, where he made a 15-footer for par. But his luck ran out on the short, par-4 sixth.
 
As it has done to so many players this week, the 321-yard hole bit Duval in the backside. He hit iron off the tee to be safe, but it drifted into the right rough ' the thick stuff.
 
As soon as he made contact, a fan screamed out, Good ball! Duval gave him the evil eye and muttered something that probably shouldnt be repeated. Hes never suffered fools well.
 
Duval was unable to get his approach shot on the green, and actually left it in the second cut of primary rough. It took two more shots to reach the putting surface, and two more putts to get it in the hole.
 
Double bogey. It wouldnt be a David Duval round without one.
 
But that was his lone stumble. He didnt unravel, didnt let things snowball.
 
He parred his final three holes, getting up-and-down from about 100 yards on the par-4 ninth to secure a 2-under 68, tying him for the lowest score of the tournament thus far.
 
Thats right, not one of 155 other players, over 310 other rounds, have posted a lower score this week than has Duval.
 
I guess you havent been listening, Duval responded rather incredulously when asked about the state of his game. Ive been saying that for I dont know how long and nobody wants to seem to listen. Im playing well. Ill say it again ' Im playing very well.
 
At 5-over-par 145, Duval is tied for 14th, six strokes back of 36-hole leader Steve Stricker. For the first time in a very long time, he is in contention to win a major championship.
 
It feels wonderful, said Duval, who has now made the cut in four of his last seven starts. I felt great coming here. I was prepared and ready to play.
 
Duval had missed the cut or withdrawn from each of his last 11 majors played. And this was his first sub-70 score in a major since the third round of the 2001 PGA Championship, compared to eight scores in the 80s during that stretch.
 
When asked about his thoughts on making the cut, Duval again got a little testy: I guess thats the difference between you and me; I dont think that way,' he said. 'Im not thinking along those lines of whether Ive done it recently or not. Its a matter of confidence and how Im playing. My results havent been nearly what I thought they should be this year up to this point, and I just look forward to a really good second half of the year.
 
'He's had a rough time, there's no question about that,' Montgomerie said. 'I wish him well for the weekend -- but not that well.'
 
Duval dearly loves the U.S. Open, even ranking it above the Masters Tournament on his list of most favorite majors. He loves it so much that he returned from an eight-month layoff to compete in the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills, where he promptly shot 83-82.
 
'If it's not my favorite, it's tied for my favorite event of the year with the Open Championship,' said Duval, who had three straight top-10s in the U.S. Open from 1998-2000.
 
In his most recent major start, at the Masters, Duval shot 84-75 to miss the cut. But his finish was very encouraging. He began the second round at Augusta National 6-10 on his way to a front-side, 7-over 43. He then came home in 4-under 32, with four birdies and no bogeys.
 
I felt like I played pretty well at Augusta, overall. I had a big test ahead of me for the last 16 holes of that tournament; I guess holes 20 through 36 for me. I guess thats where some of the hardships of how Ive played the last few years, thats where the importance of little things like that come into play, he explained.
 
I know Im playing well and I certainly am not going to pack it in, but at that point Ive got no chance of making the cut. But Im not going to quit. Im going to keep playing and building on it.
 
And it seems like a foundation may have been set.
 
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