For second straight year, Duval gets in the mix at a major

By Doug Ferguson, AP
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Game slowly returning, Duval trying to finish

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — David Duval wasn’t sure how to hit his final approach shot Saturday in the U.S. Open, an easy 7-iron made difficult by a clump of mud the size of a quarter on the top of his golf ball in the 18th fairway.

“I just decided to hit as pure as I could and see where it ended up,” Duval said.

That’s all he has been trying to do the last several years as he tries to pull himself out of a mysterious slump that has left him without a victory since the end of the 2001 season, and will leave him without a full PGA Tour card unless he turns it around this year.

This time, it couldn’t have worked out better.

The ball held its line and settled some 15 feet from the cup, and Duval made the birdie putt for an even-par 70 in the rain-delayed second round that put his name on the leaderboard at a major for the second straight year.

He was at 3-under 137, tied for fourth among those who completed 36 holes Saturday morning, five shots behind Ricky Barnes.

The trick now is to finish it off.

Duval was only three shots out of the lead after 36 holes at Royal Birkdale last summer in the British Open until a vicious wind turned little mistakes into big ones, and he ballooned to an 83.

It was a glimpse of how Duval says he is capable of playing. What no one has seen are the results.

He was No. 1 in the world 10 years ago, but his slide began soon after he captured the British Open in 2001. It has been seven years since Duval last finished in the top 10.

“Patience is crucial in this game, and I feel like I have been patient for many years and continue to work hard,” Duval said. “If anything, my patience is most tested over the last six, eight, 10 months, when I really felt like everything was falling together, but nothing good was happening for me.”

After starting the U.S. Open with two bogeys in three holes, Duval played bogey-free the rest of the first round for a 67. How long would that last? It didn’t appear very long after four bogeys in six holes to start the second round.

But he again steadied himself. Returning in the morning to finish his round, he spun a wedge back to 5 feet for birdie on the par-5 13th and then rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th.

“You make bogeys with bad shots in the U.S. Open, and you make bogeys with good shots,” Duval said. “I was never flustered. I just kept plugging along.”

Reasons behind his free fall are as mysterious as the slump itself. There were injuries to his back and shoulder, which chipped away at his confidence. Even as his health began to return, he found happiness through marriage and two children, moving to Denver to raise five children, three from his wife’s previous marriage.

The older sons, Deano and Nick, have been coming to the majors for the last five years. There hasn’t been much to cheer, and that motivates Duval as much as anything.

“I love playing the game. I love competing,” he said. “But more than that, I’d really like for my wife and my family to see how I can actually play this game. They haven’t seen me at my best, and I want them to.”

That they even get to watch him at Bethpage Black is progress.

It has been 14 years since Duval has had to qualify for the U.S. Open, and one reason he went through 36 holes of qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, last week was his affection for Bethpage Black. Never mind that Duval missed the cut at Bethpage in 2002. It’s long and tough, and it gets his attention.

He shot 66-69 at the qualifier and made it with one shot to spare.

“I started gaining confidence, and really my day in Columbus was a big boost for me because I put that much more pressure on myself to qualify and get here,” Duval said. “So I probably made it that much harder, but I managed to control myself and play real well that day.”

It has carried over into the U.S. Open, and Duval wants to see how far he can go.

Then again, with so much rain in the forecast, that’s a question for everyone.

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