Duval was impressive in setting what was then a record for earnings by a rookie, $881,436, placing him 11th on the money list. His three times as runner-up seemed to bode well, but in '96 Duval again failed to win despite two more seconds and three thirds. His most disappointing finish came in May at Atlanta, where he held a two-stroke lead after three rounds but collapsed with a 76. Throughout his first two years on the Tour, Duval was struggling to come to grips with his parents' separation. "David wasn't at peace," says McArthur. "He hadn't addressed some personal issues. My opinion was that he wasn't going to win until he resolved those things."
"All our relationships were tested after Brent died, but especially the relationship between myself and Diane," says Bob. "A lot I don't remember because I've selectively blocked it out. Neither my wife nor I was doing so well. I was drinking more than I should have. I wasn't happy in the relationship. There were serious problems."
The Duvals attempted a reconciliation, but finally, in the summer of 1996, divorced. Soon after, Bob began a new relationship and eventually remarried. Diane sank into depression, and because David remained close to her, his relationship with his father deteriorated. "He told me, 'I don't like what you're doing,' " Bob says. "I said, 'There are some things you don't understand. This is life.' It was rocky between us for a while. David put his head in the sand, but we finally had some talks. He started listening and seeing it through my eyes. He saw I was happier and better off."
As he came to terms with his father and Bob's new wife, Shari, David became a stronger person and player. He encouraged his father, who was a force in club pro events around Jacksonville, to try the Senior tour. "When he told me that he believed in my game, especially after what we had been through, it did a lot for my confidence," says Bob. David's confidence was on the rise, too. A controversial captain's pick for the 1996 Presidents Cup because he had seemed to melt in the heat of contention, Duval proved to be one of the best golfers on the U.S. team with a 4-0 record. About the same time, unhappy with carrying too much weight on his six-foot frame and impressed by the exercise regimens of other top players, Duval began a program that became more intense the more progress he made. "I found out I like the feeling of really pushing myself," he says. "You have to conquer obstacles in life, and working on your body is something where you can see results. It makes me feel better. Maybe because it's a form of gaining control. The other thing was that it's clear that the way Tiger plays is the way the game is going. Essentially, I was being a competitor."
There was one more lingering problem. His mother's depression had been gnawing at Duval for several months, but he hadn't addressed it. "David has this ability to make himself numb, to pretend problems don't exist," says McArthur. "He'll say something isn't affecting him because he can overcome it. I told him, 'Obviously it's affecting you. If it wasn't affecting you, you wouldn't have to overcome it.' "
Finally, last August, David sat down with his mother and opened up. "When I talked to my mom to try to resolve some of her difficulties, it had a good effect on both of us," he says. "She's made great strides. In the end it helped me mature."
According to McArthur, the talks also helped him win. "It absolutely made the difference," she says. "He was a stronger player mentally down the stretch. It wasn't a big difference, but it was all David needed."
"David has a good handle on life right now," his father says. "He has faced some things, on and off the course. He's probably made some decisions that no one will ever know about. Like, 'All right, my mom's O.K. My dad's O.K. Hey, I'm O.K.' "
That would rank as an asterisk-erasing moment. "Julie said something that made me laugh at myself," David says. "I asked her, 'Do you think I'm a good person?' She shot me this look and said, 'Yes. But I know you.' " Golf's impenetrable star told the story as if that might actually be a good thing.