Will Duval recapture his old form?
Having made the cut on the number with a final-hole birdie just two days earlier, Duval found himself in the first pairing of the day, off the tee at 7:57 a.m. local time. Before the co-leaders had even warmed up on the range, however, Duval was in the clubhouse with a bogey-free score of 7-under 63.
Was it a one-round aberration? Or has the former top-ranked player finally returned to form? This week, Duval heads to the Bob Hope Classic, where he shot a final-round 59 to win back in 1999. As he tries to recapture the magic, our experts each look into their crystal ball for more on Duval's future.
Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION. There's quite a difference between a final-round 63 and a final-round 63 when you're actually in contention. Duval's got to learn to walk again before he can run and a few top-10 finishes are more likely than a victory.
Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FACT. David will remember why he plays golf -- because he loves the game. And he will remember that this is the last year of his lucrative Nike contract.
Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FICTION. One top-30 finish does not suggest Duval is ready to win. He needs a few top-10s before that can be discussed.
Brian Wacker, assistant editor, GolfDigest.com: FICTION. There are some players on tour who think Duval can win as soon as this year, and the 63 he shot in the final round of last week's Sony Open is a good sign. But Duval's still got a long way to go, like contending.
Harig: FACT. This is the last year of Duval's exemption for winning the 2001 British Open. Although he had time on his side after that, he no longer does. If Duval stays healthy, he will compete well enough to finish in the top 125.
Wacker: FACT. Heck, he's already won more than four times as much as he pocketed last year. Two other important items about Duval: He's in the walk year of his multimillion dollar Nike contract and this is the final year of his exemption into The Masters from his victory at the British Open five years ago. That's motivation enough for anybody.
Sirak: FACT. He's already tripled his earnings from last year. Of course, he only made one cut in 2005, so that wasn't difficult. In fact, Duval will finish in the top 30 and make the Tour Championship.
Sobel: FACT. Tuck this question away as one of the biggest story lines for the 2006 season. It will come down to the last few tournaments of the year, and Duval, relying on previous knowledge about what it takes to compete under pressure, comes through in the clutch to keep his card.
Harig: PHIL MICKELSON. In his first start of the year, Lefty puts his offseason work to use and gets a quick victory.
Wacker: PHIL MICKELSON. The last two times Mickelson has made this tournament his first of the season, he's won it. This year won't be any different for Lefty, even if his focus is more geared toward winning major championships at this point.
Sirak: BEN CRANE. This guy plays so slowly it's like he plays a five-round tournament every week. He'll be right at home in the 90-hole format.
Sobel: STEVE FLESCH. Justin Leonard broke the string of southpaw winners last season (Mickelson won in '02 and '04; Mike Weir in '03). Here's saying Flesch, who missed the cut in the last five events of '05, gets another one for the lefties.
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