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Duval's Return or a Phantom Recovery?

The comeback of David Duval: Is it the real thing this time?

I couldn’t have been the only one watching Pebble Beach on the weekend hoping that David Duval would take the event. I’ve always liked Duval, though it is hard to imagine he only has 13 wins, including a British Open. That doesn’t put him that far beyond the likes of Mike Weir, though Duval does have a Players Championship and did shoot 59.

Anyway, it is always interesting in golf to root for the comeback. Hell, John Daly has made a career out of wishful thinking. Duval did play well last year at the US Open — but that was about it. There have been flashes where he appears back on course, only to disappear for months on end, or miss cut after cut. Apparently his four rounds in the sixties at the AT&T was the first time he’s accomplished that task since 2001 (actually a World Cup event in November of that year).

So what to expect of Duval? He’s still hiding behind his shades, but he seemed very relaxed during his final round, while co-leader Paul Goydos blew up on the 14th green, and Dustin Johnson struggled throughout attempting to cough up his lead.

Despite some driving issues on the final holes, Duval seemed pretty pleased with his result. It has been a long time since he had to stand around putting some balls to see if he’d won an event:

“I feel like I’m getting back on top of everything how I want to,” Duval said. “This is what I expect of myself. I expect to play well. With that said, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a chance to win every week, but you expect to be in control most of the time with what you’re trying to do.

That’s not to say Duval was firing on all cylinders. Sure he shot 3-under during a time when the leaders couldn’t break par, but he did snap hook a couple at the end. His driver was such a concern — and has been for most of 8 years — that he hit 3-wood off the tee on 18, despite probably needing a birdie to win. Duval used to be a long hitter — probably still is — but this move provided a pretty good sense that while he’s part way back, there are still demons in the closet. Announcer Nick Faldo said he liked the move by Duval to play it safe, but it stuck me as a guy who when the tournament was on the line couldn’t be sure his shot with his driver wouldn’t soar into the Pacific.

I think my soft spot for Duval comes from the fact we’re basically the same age, and he was one of the game’s rising stars when I first started paying attention to the professional game. I also had an interesting encounter with Duval at the 2004 Canadian Open. I’ll start this by quoting from Duval’s press conference yesterday:

Q. I was following you on the golf course for a time today at the closing holes, 16, 17, and 18. The first thing I really noticed was the fan support. Everybody really strongly backing you. What’s that feel like to have when you’re coming down that stretch?

DAVID DUVAL: Well, it’s important. It’s a nice thing. I’m very appreciative of it and very cognizant of it. I just believe — my guess is that with where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through, I think that the fact that – at least I feel like I’ve kept my head high through it all and acted like a professional and haven’t quit – I think that people — I think that if anything, that tends to endear you with fans.

In my opinion, golf fans like a comeback — which explains John Daly’s appeal. However, unlike Daly, Duval didn’t abuse his talent — he got hurt, had a family, tried to change his swing and fell apart. Still, he’s a guy who once shot 59, who won a British Open and didn’t back down to Tiger Woods at St. Andrews even when stuck in the greenside bunker on the Road Hole.

At Glen Abbey six years ago, Duval was playing pretty well after two rounds, and I walked eight or nine holes with him late in the day. After the round, a group of reporters caught him coming out of the scorer’s tent. Typical Duval, even late in the day he had his wrap-around glasses on. Among those hanging about were AP reporter Doug Ferguson, and Golf Digest reporter Bob Verdi. Duval had a reputation as a difficult guy at the time, though Ferguson said that was generally with television reporters who didn’t pay attention to his round and suddenly wanted his time afterwards.

Anyway, a Canadian golf writer, who didn’t follow a single hole with Duval, strode up, notebook in hand and fired away at Duval.

“David, are you surprised at the fan support out there given how you’ve played lately,” the reporter asked pointedly.

Duval just stood there, staring at him. After a few seconds he answered.

“How would you know how the fans reacted to me?” he questioned. “I think they’ve treated me fairly because I’ve acted like a professional.”

He finished his comment and just looked at the guy, saying nothing more. The reporter got as close to the ground as he could and slunk away. You’d think that would be the end of the interview, but Duval stood around talking to the other reporters for 10 more minutes. I recall asking about his workout routine.

“Why, are you saying I’m fat?” he said flatly.

I wasn’t sure how to take it, until he smiled and said, “Yeah, I’ve put on some weight. I can’t work out like I used to — it puts too much strain on my back.”

Everyone loves a comeback — and Duval seems poised for one. But we’ve been here before — so let’s see if this is a return to the David Duval of 2001, or the version that has struggled to find his way for most of the last decade. Is this the Duval who almost won the U.S. Open, or the version who missed every cut after that for the rest of the year?

Here’s Doug Ferguson’s take on Duval, while Lorne Rubenstein at the Globe also chimes in.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • It’s easy to forget that once Duval learned how to win in ’97, he had a stretch of about 3 years where he was dominant, even outstretching a young Mr. Woods. If you look at his career he began to slip a bit in 2000, and while he won the Open Championship in 2001, he didn’t have a great year otherwise and it was all over after that. So the real question ought to be: can he return to the DD of the late ’90s? I hope so, because he is a good guy who deserves success.

  • Hey with Tiger out of the picture for who knows how long…this was the kind of story that HE and GOLF in general needed.

    Good to see him playing well… and I for one… hope this continues for the entire season!

    TV

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