Time is Not on Duvals Side

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Its been six seasons since hes had a win. Five since he even had a top-10 or finished inside the top 125 on the money list.

And yet he still intrigues. Guess we are just fascinated by what we cant explain.

David Duval has had to do a lot of explaining over the last half-decade. Thats what happens when you go from the No. 1 player in the world to the No. 1 oddity in the game, when people start looking at you with bewilderment instead of reverence.

David Duval
David Duval last finished inside the top 125 on the money list in 2002.
He blamed it on injury, blamed it on apathy. Hurt his back and developed some bad swing habits. Won a major and wondered: Is that all there is?

Duvals freefall is well-chronicled. Youd be hard-pressed to find a fan who didnt know his story ' if not the specific details, at least the generalities.

The story has evolved a bit over the last couple of years. Hes gotten married; adopted her kids ' had one of their own; moved to Colorado. Hes better-rounded, he says.

He looks it, too. His once chiseled physique now has the definition of a jar of jelly.

And thats just the way he wants it. Hes says hes happy now, and you have to believe him (hes never been one to put up a false front).

He also says that hes playing better. That hes close to being a contender once again. And there, too, you have to take him for his word, because its not always easy to see.

There are signs, however; bits of evidence that he is indeed improving. Last year, he finished 172nd in earnings. Certainly nothing special for a man who has 13 career PGA TOUR wins and a claret jug.

But that was nearly 100 spots better than his position the year prior. And his 11 cuts made (in 24 starts) were more than his combined total over the previous three seasons. He only made one cut in 20 starts in '05.

His best finish of 06 came, of all places, at the U.S. Open. He tied for 16th at Winged Foot, even made some noise on Friday when he shot a tournament best 68.

Following that round Duval was asked what he always gets asked after posting a good number: Are you back? Is your game finally coming around?

And he answered as he has answered many times before:

I've been saying that for I don't know how long and nobody wants to seem to listen ' I'm playing well. I'll say it again: I'm playing very well.

At the British Open, five years after having won it at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Duval posted a couple of modest 2-under 70s over the first two days.

And, of course, someone just had to ask: Do you feel the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together?

And, of course, Duval just had to reply: As I've said for many months, I'm playing well. I really don't know how else to answer that question.

Duval realizes that the question will persist until he develops some sort of consistency. He also admits: It will be nice when that's over. It will mean that I'm playing as I expected.

He might want to get on that in a hurry.

Duval was granted a five-year TOUR exemption for winning the 2001 Open Championship. That was 1-2-3-4-5-6 years ago.

Hes competing this year by using a one-time exemption for being inside the top 25 on the TOURs career money list. He can play next year, if need be, by using a one-time exemption for being inside the top 50 on that list.

And then then he has to make it on his own merit ' based on recent accomplishments, not from what he achieved in the past.

His quest begins this week at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the tournament where he shot a closing 59 to cement his status as the best player in the world ' even before he officially became No. 1.

That came in 1999. He finished 26 under that week. In 2005, he finished 30 over ' without playing in the fifth and final round.

But last year he made the cut to play the final day. He finished at 9 under, despite shooting 78 along the way.

Its that one day that really seems to be holding him back at the moment. Fourteen times in 23 stroke-play events last year, he had at least one round of 75 or higher.

It's also those singular rounds that make others believe, as he does, that a revival is possible: the 63 Sunday of last year's Sony; the 64 in round 4 at the Hope; the 68 at Winged Foot.

They're just too few and far between.

The game still seems a bit puzzling to Duval, which is quite appropriate considering he is one of golfs greatest mysteries.

When it comes to David Duval, one really has no idea what to expect. Hes one big, well-rounded, seemingly content question mark.

Hed prefer nothing more than to have his game provide positive answers to all those questions. But who knows if that is possible.

The one thing thats most certain in all of this: tracking back up a hill is much more arduous than sledding down it.

If, however, his game doesnt tell you what you want to know, feel free to ask him how things are coming along. He just loves that.

Related Links:

  • Full Coverage ' Bob Hope Chrysler Classic

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