Commentary

Duval stalls after fast start at Open

Originally Published: June 19, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The results do not reflect his words, and as much as you want to believe David Duval, the scores simply do not bear out what he has been saying.

Perhaps this week at the U.S. Open will be different for Duval, whose perseverance remains admirable, especially when you consider the perch he once occupied -- and how far he has fallen from it.

[+] EnlargeDavid Duval
Timothy A. Clary/Getty ImagesAfter an opening-round 67, David Duval struggled right out of the gate, bogeying four of his first six holes in Round 2.

A 67 during the first round at Bethpage Black on Friday raised eyebrows and hopes. Since Duval has not contended for so long, it is easy to be skeptical. But he's also been talking about being close, and those who see him week in and week out on the PGA Tour suggest there is more to it than just false hope.

"I've been working hard, and I've been playing well," Duval, 37, said during the short time between signing for his 67 and having to start the second round of the weather-plagued tournament. He trailed first-round leader Mike Weir by just three strokes at the time. "I have felt like for most of this year, my scores have not been reflective at all of how I'm playing, and they are slowly. … I feel like my scores are slowly catching up to how I'm playing."

If nothing else, Duval has an attitude to be envied. Not only has Duval not won since capturing the 2001 British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he has posted just four top-10s since that day in July when he cradled the Claret Jug.

To take it further, none of those top-10s has come since the 2002 season. In the intervening years, Duval has dealt with complacency, injury, family illness and enough hits to his confidence to make you wonder why he puts himself through the torture.

The 13-time PGA Tour winner doesn't have a top-25 finish in the past two years and last year made just five of 20 cuts on the PGA Tour. Playing on a one-time exemption this year for the top 50 all-time money winners, Duval had one stretch where he missed six straight cuts. His best finish is a tie for 55th. And two weeks ago at the Memorial, despite starting the tournament with a 5-under-par 31 that put him on the leaderboard, Duval could do no better than a tie for 58th.

That is why any optimism today carries with it a healthy dose of skepticism. Last summer, for example, Duval got himself into contention after two rounds of the British Open, only to shoot an 83 in Round 3.

And you could not help but get the "here we go again" feeling as Duval bogeyed three straight holes on the front nine of the second round Friday evening.

"I feel like I'm controlling the golf ball well, hitting it good," Duval said. "In the first round, I did what you need to do, simple recipe, hit the ball in play and knock it on the green. That's been my goal ever since we started out the qualifying rounds in Columbus. That's how I approached it, just the same way: get it in play and knock it on the greens and go from there."

Duval did manage to right the ship somewhat, making two birdies to get back to 1-under for the championship before play was called at 8:24 p.m. ET due to darkness. He was tied for 12th, 5 shots back of Friday overnight leader Lucas Glover.

Just to get here, Duval put on an impressive performance. He shot 66-69 at his 36-hole sectional qualifier in Ohio and hit 34 of 36 greens. He made three bogeys -- all three putts -- and was 9 under par.

The fact that he would even endure such a scenario to make it to another place where the conditions are taxing says something about Duval's motivation at this point in his career.

"Forever I've never made bones about it; I think the two Opens are the most important events of the year," he said. "The two Opens are events to which everyone has access, technically, and then to come back up here was very important to me. The qualifying in Columbus was a very important day and every important two rounds for me to play well."

For a time in the late 1990s, Duval appeared the best bet to be a decade-long foil to Tiger Woods. He was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1999, a year he won four times. From 1998 through 2001, Duval had eight top-10s in majors. He broke through at the British Open in '01, then suggested later that getting to the top had left him wondering, "What now?"

The troubles began in 2003, when Duval made just four cuts in 20 starts, prompting him to take a seven-month break from the game. He returned at the 2004 U.S. Open but made just four cuts in 29 starts over two years. Back and shoulder injuries contributed to his problems, leading to poor habits that were difficult to shake.

Although he had some success in 2006, Duval played just seven events in 2007 because of wife Susie's difficult pregnancy. It has remained a struggle since, as Duval made just five of 20 cuts last year, with a tie for 22nd at the Viking Classic his best.

So here we are again … Duval's words matched against his deeds. As the sun was setting on Bethpage Black, the bogeys started to outnumber the birdies. Maybe he'll make it up during the completion of the second round Saturday morning. Maybe not.

"I would say I hope I appreciate it more, but I also have a very good idea what great golf is about and what bad golf is about," Duval said.

The long day was far from over, but Duval was not complaining.

"Like I've always said when people complain about tee times," Duval said, "hey, I just want a tee time; just give me one so I can play."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com