x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The baffling decline in fortunes of David Duval

Once ranked No 1, he ranks No 775, tucked between No 773 Will Strickler, No 774 Peter Gustafsson, No 776 Andrew Georgiou and No 777 Shinichi Yokota.

David Duval failed to build on his 2001 British Open success at Royal Lytham.
David Duval failed to build on his 2001 British Open success at Royal Lytham.

All I can tell you is that it looked like a dreamscape. Blue got a star turn in the Lancashire sky. Clouds scattered themselves, refrained from howling and sat up there minding their own business.

And through a large window in a stately old clubhouse maybe six metres from the 18th green at Royal Lytham and St Annes, you could see droves of people tumbling on to the 18th fairway, surrounding a famous guy until he sort of vanished for a solid minute.

The guy, known for remoteness and imperviousness and even occasional churlishness, smiled bigger than his then-fiancée had ever seen him smile, and not because of the plump streaker who soon took to the 18th green. (Note: for technical accuracy, you would have to say the day looked like a dreamscape except for the plump streaker.) In a sense, this golfer had completed a monomaniacal journey.

The 11-year-old scene regains pertinence this week because the British Open returns to Lytham and revisits an awkward story long since told yet never adequately explained.

It conjures again the unusual story of David Duval, who won the 2001 Open by three shots, charmed fans with a heartfelt speech and said, "Certainly you don't want to get trampled but, you know, I was pretty well protected." After a shockingly consistent 12-major run that included two seconds, one third and seven more top-11s, he had broken through and won one at 29, his 13th PGA Tour title.

More would follow for sure.

None ever has.

Duval in 2012: missed the cut in the California desert, missed the cut at Pebble Beach, missed the cut in Mexico, missed the cut in South Florida, missed the cut in Puerto Rico, missed the cut in Orlando, missed the cut in South Carolina, finished tied for 60th in Texas, tied for 66th in New Orleans, missed the cut in North Carolina, missed the cut in Texas, missed the cut in Tennessee, missed the cut in Illinois.

Once ranked No 1, he ranks No 775, tucked between No 773 Will Strickler, No 774 Peter Gustafsson, No 776 Andrew Georgiou and No 777 Shinichi Yokota. Remember, all five of these men are outstanding at golf by any reasonable human standard; it's just that only one has finished suddenly second in a US Open (Duval in 2009) while ranking No 882.

Duval has played 25 major tournaments since winning the 2001 British Open and finishing 10th at the 2001 PGA Championship in Atlanta. He has missed 17 cuts and withdrawn once. In 2002, he never made a top three at any event. In 2005, he made US$7,360 (Dh28,000). This year, he has made $26,696. It's a hard, hard game, yet hard to make that little with such demonstrable skill within.

So as the chatter comes back to Lytham, where the Open winners include Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Duval, some list there, it would be understandable to reanalyse. What did ever happen to Duval? Which of the umpteen theories makes sense? Shouldn't we ask him again, knowing the topic is tired and the subject is tired of the topic? Doesn't it remain interesting, the idea that he could have found an Open title somehow hollow?

Isn't it another case of golf's strangeness that he often has ranked his play at Lytham 2001 the worst among his 13 wins, and that he found that inappropriate?

It's all fair to ask, but maybe we could just refrain this time. Maybe with another Open at Lytham 11 years on, with Duval having played only two Open weekends since 2003, we could try to remember two things.

In 2008 at Birkdale, Duval shot 69 on Friday, his first sub-70 since that closing 67 in 2001, so a bunch of us gathered around him. "I live for my family," the father of five said yet again.

"I mean, you know, ironically, standing on this side of the mike you get asked these things, and I'm no different than anybody, any of you guys. You live for your family. It's a story for some reason, when it seems like that should be kind of a given."

Thereby did he supply an "Alice In Wonderland" moment, almost funny, because it is strange that it's strange when a driven athlete extols living for his family.

And we could remember that in a life that still hasn't reached 40, Duval did snare himself a July Sunday with blue sky, pretty clouds and the merry mobbing of a reserved man on an 18th fairway, a dreamscape save for the plump streaker who mercifully turned up not in memory and only in research.


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