Duval 'excited and scared' by return to fairways

In the week that Tiger Woods, after five years as the world No 1, could be knocked off his pedestal, the last man to do just that has chosen to return to competitive golf. David Duval has not always done the obvious and in reappearing at the 104th US Open at Shinnecock Hills the former Open champion has given himself one of the most daunting challenges.

In the week that Tiger Woods, after five years as the world No 1, could be knocked off his pedestal, the last man to do just that has chosen to return to competitive golf. David Duval has not always done the obvious and in reappearing at the 104th US Open at Shinnecock Hills the former Open champion has given himself one of the most daunting challenges.

Duval has not played since he withdrew from a tournament in Japan last November. Last season he made only four cuts and at times struggled to break 80.

Now ranked 434th in the world, Duval returns to the circuit a married man, having met his bride only last August, and at a loss to know how his game will stand up to the test of a major championship despite plenty of practice in his new home town of Denver.

"I'm excited but I am scared," said the 32-year-old, whose dramatic slump followed a period as world No 1, a round of 59 and the victory at Royal Lytham three years ago.

"I am nervous having been away for quite some time. I have no expectations. I am just going to enjoy being out there. I just didn't want to miss the US Open and I love Shinnecock Hills."

Duval joined the rest of the field in practising yesterday despite the strong breeze which gave the competitors a taste of what is to come. Exposed to the many different winds at the eastern end of Long Island, the course provides no shelter in the form of trees and in places the rough is up to waist high.

"If the wind switches, there could be mayhem," said Ireland's Padraig Harrington. "I'm really impressed by the course from every standpoint. I wouldn't compare it to any particular links in Ireland but there are times you think, 'How can you get the ball there?' If I had spent the last two years playing links golf in Ireland it would be good preparation but like everyone else I'm used to playing stadium courses."

Jim Furyk was still hoping to defend his title despite not playing since having surgery on his left wrist in March. Tiger's last major victory also came on Long Island, at Bethpage, exactly two years ago. Should Ernie Els or Vijay Singh win this week, they could replace Woods as the world No 1 depending on Tiger's performance.

Woods' only other appearance at Shinnecock came when he was an amateur and ended after six holes of the second round with a wrist injury. He will be aiming to stay out of the "fescue" rough this week.

"It's going to be a fantastic tournament," he said. "It's the best I've ever seen a US Open course set-up. It's going to be fair but I anticipate that it will be difficult."

In the last two US Opens here in 1986 and 1995, only one player finished under par and Phil Mickelson can see that list not being extended this week. "With the course as firm as it is, and the wind, if we don't get any rain I just don't see how anyone can shoot around par for the four days," said the current Masters champion.

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