He smiled and blinked into the sun when he captured the British Open. He skipped awkwardly around the 18th green in Palm Springs when he shot 59. He defiantly raised the trophy when he won The Players Championship five years ago to become No. 1 in the world. But the other day in Denver, Duval hit a golf shot so pure that he cried.
'I've been waiting and practicing and working,' Duval said. 'The way I look at it, I forgot how to play golf. I wanted to feel like I had some type of control again. I've had some good days and some bad days, hit some good shots and some really bad shots.
'When I felt like I knew what I was doing, I was in tears.'
Considering where he has been, and how far he has fallen, not many could blame him.
The last player besides Tiger Woods to be No. 1 in the world ranking, Duval has gone three years without winning. He hasn't even played on the PGA Tour in eight months, so it's no surprise that his world ranking has plunged to No. 434, lower than Ben Curtis when he won the British Open last year.
That's what made his decision to play in the U.S. Open - his first competition since November - so surprising.
The U.S. Open is considered the toughest test in golf. Shinnecock Hills, with its narrow fairways framed by waist-high fescue that waves in the wind, is among the most demanding courses. And Duval comes into this U.S. Open having not struck a golf ball in competition this year.
'I'm very surprised Duval is coming out here,' Brad Faxon said Monday. 'This is not the place where you want to hit a lot of errant shots.'
But it all seems so simple to Duval.
His game might not be in the best shape, but his hunger to play has returned, and that's all that matters.
'I just want to go play,' he said during a recent interview with The Associated Press. 'I have no expectations. I just want to enjoy being out there. It's very hard to miss the U.S. Open. Am I playing great? No. I just want to be there.'
In some respects, Duval says the U.S. Open is the perfect place to return.
'How often has anybody played great in the U.S. Open?' he said. 'U.S. Opens don't allow you to play great. They require you to hit it solid and outlast everybody.'
How long he lasts is anyone's guess.
Duval still doesn't know whether this is the first step on a long journey back, or merely a cameo appearance.
He has no plans after Shinnecock Hills, although he said it's safe to assume he will go to Royal Troon to play in the British Open. He also plans to play the International near his new home in Denver.
This week will be a good gauge - not the score on his card, but the desire in his heart.
In October at the Las Vegas Invitational, Duval missed the cut in his last PGA Tour event of the year and knew it was time to step away.
'It's all about wanting to be there and being excited to play, not showing up at a hotel room in Vegas like I did, where as soon as I set my bags down, I'm wanting to leave,' he said. 'I will walk away from competitive golf if it starts to interfere with my enjoyment of the game.'
However, he remains motivated by competition.
Duval's favorite story is the time he was 12 and stayed with his grandparents in Fernandina Beach, Fla. He played with his grandfather every day and could never beat him. One day, Duval came to the ninth tee leading by one.
'I ended up making a 6 and he made a 4, so he beat me,' Duval said. 'And I started crying. I said, 'You know, Granddaddy, you might have beaten me today, but when I come back next summer, you'll never beat me again.'
'That's the greatest story I like to tell,' Duval said. 'I don't know why, but it's something you never forget.'
Duval was expected to arrive at Shinnecock Hills on Tuesday with his bride of four months, the former Susie Persichitte. They met last summer in Denver at a restaurant and hit it off.
'She didn't know who I was,' Duval said.
They were engaged in November, and spent part of the winter holidays with Fred Couples and his wife.
'The first thing my wife said, 'Can you believe David?' I mean, he was so different,' Couples said after the wedding. 'I don't know if it's going to help his golf game. It doesn't really matter. He's extremely happy.'
Out of touch for most of the year, Duval started to get some television time last week with a new Nike commercial in which Duval and other players are going through Woods' golf clubs in the garage. Duval swings a driver and shatters a car window.
'Best contact you've made all year, Duval,' says Frank, Woods' animated head cover.
Duval says the commercial was shot late last year, and that Nike officials made sure he didn't mind the ending.
'I thought it was hilarious,' Duval said.
The U.S. Open has never been mistaken for Comedy Central, although Duval sees this week as a time to enjoy himself, and to remember how lucky he is to play professional golf for a living.
Still, he expects an extraordinary amount of jitters on the first tee Thursday morning.
'I'm nervous. I'm scared in a sense,' he said. 'I've been a way for quite some time. But I'm really excited.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.