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Duval Answers Challenge

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David Duval didn't make the trip to Pine Mountain, Ga. just to compete. He came to Callaway Gardens Resort to win. And he did just that.
 
Playing in his first 72-hole event in10 weeks, the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket birdied the 15th, 17th and 18th holes to capture the Buick Challenge by two strokes over Nick Price and Jeff Maggert.
 
'It's surprising to come back this way,' said Duval, whose final round 65 earned him $414,000.
 
Thirty starts removed from his last victory at the 1999 PLAYERS Championship, Duval is a PGA Tour winner for the 12th time.
 
It's been a frustrating season for the former No.1-ranked player in the world. Putting problems cost him a couple of chances to win earlier in the year. An errant 6-iron cost him a chance to win his first major at the Masters. And until this week, the public's last image of Duval was of him hopelessly flailing away in the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews.
 
Then, when things finally seemed to be clicking, a bad back sidelined the 28-year-old.
 
He missed the season's final major, the PGA Championship. He missed the $5 million WGC-NEC Invitational.
 
And quite simply, he just missed playing.
 
Lying on his couch, Duval wondered when, and if, he would play again. And would he be able to compete at the level he was accustomed to?
 
He answered those questions this week.
 
Trailing Maggert by two shots entering the final round, Duval found himself in sole possession of the lead by the time the final group made the turn.
 
Following a front-nine 5-under-par 31, Duval was at 17-under, one shot clear of Maggert and Price.
 
Maggert, who was trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner of this event in 23 years, birdied the 10th to reclaim a share of the lead; and then took the outright lead with another red number at the par-3 12th.
 
Meanwhile, Price looked as if he was beginning to falter. In search of his first Tour win since the 1998 FedEx St. Jude Classic, the Zimbabwean bogeyed the 9th and 11th holes to fall two shots off the lead at 15-under.
 
Price regrouped with birdies at the 12th and 13th holes, but couldn't close the gap on Maggert. Playing alongside Price, Maggert also birdied the 12th and 13th to retain a two-shot lead over his playing companion at 19-under-par.
 
That lead was cut to just one when Price birdied the par-5 15th.
 
With three holes remaining, Maggert led the way at 19-under. Price was one back at 18-under. And Duval stood in third place at 17-under.
 
Then things got really interesting.
 
An errant tee shot at the par-3 16th led to a bogey 4 for Maggert. With two holes left, the scoreboard showed Maggert and Price tied for the lead at 18-under, with Duval just one shot back.
 
Playing in the penultimate group, Duval stuck his approach shot at the par-4 17th to two feet. The tap-in birdie made it a three-way tie for the top spot at 18-under.
 
That logjam didn't remain for long.
 
Approaching from the fairway, both Maggert and Price missed the green at the 17th. Both made bogey.
 
That meant a par 4 at the last for Duval would secure him at least a spot in a playoff. But Duval didn't want that. He had already lost once this year to Dennis Paulson in sudden death at the Buick Classic.
 
No, there would be no playoff this Sunday. Duval made sure of that by sticking another approach shot within three feet of the cup. It was Duval's eighth birdie of the day. It turned out he didn't need it, as both Price and Maggert parred the 72nd hole, but it was a great way to complete his comeback.
 
'This is a spectacular week for me,' said Duval. 'Everything that happened this year on the golf course, then to follow it up that disappointment with the injury, then to come back and do this..it's an absolute dream.'
 
Maggert's Sunday dream turned into a nightmare down the stretch. For the day, Maggert carded seven birdies, but he also posted five bogeys en route to a 2-under-par 70.
 
'I just made a few too many bogeys,' said a disappointed Maggert, who is now 1-8 when taking a 54-hole lead into the final round. 'David played awfully good today. Me and Nick played well all day but we kept stumbling at the end and David made birdies.'
 
While the season is winding down, Duval is just getting started. Armed with good health and improved confidence, Duval is ready to 'get after it.'
 
Said Duval: 'This is the best I've felt in a long time, certainly this calendar year.'
 
And the year's no over just yet.