The brave attitude building a revival for Duval

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The Independent Online

David Duval must laugh whenever anyone refers to him as "the forgotten champion". "If only," he might be tempted to comment. As the 34-year-old has undertaken the golfing version of the sinking of the Titanic since winning the Open Championship five years ago, he has become as infamous as the rusting old hulk.

The difference for Duval is that there has been no ocean at the bottom of which to hide; only a half-decade of scoreboards where he has been there for all to see. He always swore to those with "disaster" on their agendas that he would rise again some day. And here, Hoylake has been witnessing a few more bubbles of life.

A second successive 70 yesterday was hardly enough to trouble the leaders - well, one in particular anyway - but his four-under total did mean that for the first time since Sandwich three years ago he will be around for the weekend. But typical of this man, whose expectations have never dipped so alarmingly as his form, he was not about to start doing high-fives.

"As I've been saying for many months, I'm playing well," he said, referring to a season in which his average score per round has improved by four shots - from 75.56 to 71.55 - from last year. "In fact, I'm playing really well. Today I played well enough to be eight, nine or even 10 under - I've just gotten very little out of it. All I need to do is make a couple of putts."

Many in golf think Duval is owed a couple, although the former world No 1 would not be one of them. During one of the most calamitous slumps in the history of the game, he has never bemoaned his luck, even when the fates have seemingly ganged up on him with merciless regularity. Not once has he ran away.

At the Masters in April, for instance, after an opening 84, his own father - himself a former Tour professional - suggested it could be prudent to scratch and spare himself further torture. But Duval carried on. "What kind of a message would that be to my kids, my fans, anybody else?" he later told Golf Digest, the American magazine. "I had a bad round, shot 84, so I'm going to take my ball and go home, boohoo? I never considered withdrawing, and I don't think my dad really expected me to, either."

After nine holes of his second round it appeared a bad decision. He began with a six, followed it with a 10 and with a 43 on the front nine was back in that lonely precinct called infamy. So how did he end up with a 75 then, and how on earth did he rally himself to come back in a four-under 32? "I straightened it out," he said. "And if it hadn't been for a couple lip-outs, I could have shot 30 or even 29. I look at the glass as half-full."

To everyone else it had been bone dry for an awful long time. As he continues his upward curve, perhaps it is now the polite time to ask what had gone wrong. Injury, is the simple answer; a mysterious back complaint first ruling him out of the USPGA just after his win in Lytham, before getting really nasty. "I can't remember one swing that caused it, or anything," he said. "Anyway, I wound up on the floor at my place in Sun Valley for six weeks. I got up to eat and rehab, but that's it. I was miserable."

Out of such desperation often comes enlightenment and for Duval it was in Japan three years ago. He hesitates to blame his strict working-out regime - which effected a rapid change in body shape - but he is prepared to admit that he had to step back from the weight machine. "There was a time when people told me I was too thin, too gaunt," he explained. "I got down as low as five per cent body fat, my best shape ever. But, if I looked better, I didn't always like the way I felt. I was working out four, five days a week. Lifting, running, the usual. Then a couple of years ago I was in Japan and it struck me: everything seems to hurt."

So the gym-door handle went dusty and so the pain eased, at least enough to allow his swing to heal. "When someone in January mentioned that I looked like I was back in my 'comfort zone', I asked him whether he meant my 'buffet zone'," he joked, something he has always managed to do.

But maybe never as joyously as now. "As bad as things got with golf, I never really thought of quitting the game." That must have been because of days like this. As well as that little thing called hope.

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