It would've been
a 10-minute walk, tops, from the 2nd green to the clubhouse at Augusta
National. And after David Duval's all-out assault on the flora bordering the
left side of the 2nd fairway last Friday--he had hooked his drive into some
azaleas, leading to a 10 on the par-5--you had to wonder if he was tempted to
duck under the ropes and skip town. � Here was Duval, the Oakley-armored enigma
who'd been a leader board fixture at four straight Masters (1998 through '01),
playing for perhaps the final time at Augusta. Between 1997 and 2001 Duval won
13 PGA Tour events, the last of which was the '01 British Open. That win came
with a five-year Masters exemption, which expired last Friday when he missed
the cut by 11 shots. Since those heady days in '01, as the entire cosmos knows,
Duval has been in dizzying free fall, a plummet accelerated by an array of
maladies that included, appropriately, vertigo. Spraying tee shots and
crisscrossing fairways throughout his opening-round 84 at Augusta, the former
No. 1 player in the world elicited not awe, but pity.
noise at this year's Masters was the vaguely absurd, borderline theological
debate over what a pair of dead men, Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, truly
intended when they designed Augusta National. What they did not intend was for
golfers to play the first two holes in seven over par, which is what Duval did
by going double-bogey, quintuple-bogey to start the second round. Instead of
picking up his ball and going home--at that point he stood at a jaw-dropping 19
over through 20 holes-- Duval did something completely unexpected: He turned
back the clock and started playing like the Duval of old, hitting fairways,
dive-bombing pins and burying putts. And he had a bit of luck. His drive on the
par-5 8th hole was forest-bound but instead took one hop and struck Brooks
Youmans, 59, in the left pectoral. Youmans, who was not injured, happens to be
a Georgia Tech alum.
"Hope I saved
you a stroke," he told Duval, the four-time All-America for the Yellow
Jackets, who indeed went on to save par.
numbers 3, 7, 12, 14, 15 and 17. On the day no one had a higher score on the
front nine than Duval's 43, and no one bettered his back-nine 32. Following one
of the most bipolar rounds in Masters history, one could make the point that
Duval found his game only after his fate was sealed and the pressure was off.
The man himself saw it differently. "I didn't do very well yesterday,"
he said, "and I had a nightmare start today, but for the next 16 holes I
played as well as anybody on the course. My game is there. It's simply a matter
of gaining a little more confidence. I'm close."
After missing the cut in 19 of 20 starts last season, Duval has recently shown
flashes. In November he was the first-round leader at the Dunlop Phoenix
tournament in Miyazaki, Japan--outplaying the likes of Tiger Woods and Jim
Furyk--before fading to a tie for seventh. In eight starts this year he has
made three cuts, his best finish a 31st in the Sony Open.
through a Rolodex of swing gurus and sports psychologists, Duval reunited with
his old coach at Tech, Puggy Blackmon, now the coach at South Carolina, at last
year's Masters. "When I got to him," Blackmon says, "there was some
weird stuff going on [with Duval's swing]." While they have worked to
restore the motion that propelled him to No. 1 in the world in 1999, Duval has
also returned to his former physique. In the mid-90s Duval drastically reshaped
his body, morphing from panda-shaped to sculpted. In 2000 he suffered the back
injury that began his downward spiral. He is now, as Mike Weir diplomatically
put it last week, "back to his old body style."
Duval, 34, is
heavier, and infinitely happier. Following him around the National last week
was Susan Persichitte, who Duval met in Denver in August 2003 and married the
following March. He has embraced, and been embraced by, Susan's sons from a
previous marriage, Deano, 16, and Nick, 13. Deano was on Duval's bag during
last Wednesday's par-3 contest. The ranks of their postmodern family grew by
one a year ago, when Susan gave birth to Brayden, a fitful sleeper whose
diapers, Duval assured a reporter, he frequently changes. "I was on the
case this morning," he said, finally cracking a smile an hour after
Away from his
brood Duval is focused on getting his game back. "And I believe he
will," says fellow pro Tim Herron. "He's been swinging it much better
lately. But the big news is, he's never been this happy. Does he let bad rounds
get to him? Of course. They get to all of us. But he has a wife and a baby, and
when he's home, he's home. He's away from it."
"He has a
little of his swagger back," says Justin Leonard, who played a practice
round with Duval on Wednesday. "He knows he's playing well, and he's not
afraid to tell you. It's fun to see him hitting shots and not worrying about
where his ball is going to end up."
practice rounds last week Duval tore up the National, but the moment it
mattered on Thursday morning, he had no clue, duck-hooking his opening drive
off an evergreen and setting the tone for a round that served as a primer on
Augusta's varied plant life.