The Open 2015: David Duval's love for the links revives old winning touch

The 43-year-old American won the Open in 2001

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The Independent Online

It is 14 years since David Duval won the Open. “Man, that’s a long time ago,” said the American yesterday. So long that the 43-year-old was something of a forgotten man until he turned up at the Champion Golfers’ Challenge last Wednesday. He is ranked 1,268th in the world and admitted that he is little different from many of his compatriots in these parts: “I’m on a Scottish links trip.”

Except that Duval still expects to play well, he just needs a stage to do it on. They do not come grander than the Old Course during an Open Championship. Duval’s 67 early in the third round  yesterday was his best 18 holes in the Championship since he posted the same score in the final round to win at Royal Lytham in 2001.

In that time he had only one score under 70 but then he has not made the cut since 2008. On Saturday evening he three-putted the 17th and then, knowing he needed a three at the last to get inside the cut, did just that.

At Lytham all those years ago, Duval charged from the back of the field with a third round of 65 before winning his only major title the following day. He had reached the top of the world rankings two years earlier but found sporting  success did not fulfil him.

Golf was an escape for Duval following a childhood of turmoil that included a parental divorce and his brother dying despite a bone marrow transplant from David. But at Lytham, as he collected the Claret Jug, he removed the cap and the sunglasses behind which he used to hide, and opened himself to the world.

As injuries hampered his golf, he relished life. He got married, became a stepfather, then a father. His opportunities to play on tour dwindled as his results plummeted. Now healthy, in mind and body, his game suffers only from lack of exposure to confidence-boosting competition. He has played only four times this year in America, making only one cut.

Instead Duval does some commentary and provides analysis on television, which has helped rather than  hindered his game. “You’re sitting there realising, man, these guys hit some really ugly shots,” he explained. “Everyone screws up and does bad things and so it removes a little bit of pressure of having to go out and play perfectly. When you’re playing well, you forget immediately about your bad shots. When you are struggling you feel like everyone else is hitting it beautiful and perfect all the time.”

Duval has thrown himself into links golf for the last fortnight, first playing in the Scottish Open at Gullane. He missed the cut there but that enabled him to play a couple of extra rounds of practice here. “I’ve been on St Andrews every day since last Saturday playing golf. Who gets to say that, really? It’s pretty cool.

“Links golf is my favourite thing to do,” he added. “It puts a smile on my face when I’m out there playing. The  challenges of it I find intriguing, frustrating, uplifting, all these things, so to get to do it for two straight weeks, it’s a blessing as a golfer.

“Physically, I’m back playing just like I used to but what I lack is starts, and from that the utter confidence the top players have. But facing the challenge I had to make the cut, it made me feel real good to do that. I got a lot of congratulations, a lot of thumbs up, about making a birdie on 18 from players, caddies, even the walking referee, everybody was excited. It’s nice to come to a place you love and then perform well.”

Out in 32, Duval ended the round at five under par, still well back in the pack but knowing that a good final round could help his chances of playing more. He might only get to participate in one more tournament this season but a strong finale might remind a few tournament directors that he is worth a sponsor’s invitation.

Once severe and detached, Duval has become a former champion worth getting to know. “There’s absolutely no pressure on me tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll go out and do the best I can. Maybe I’ll shoot 67 again, maybe I’ll shoot 77, who knows? But I’ll have a smile on my face and will enjoy walking around St Andrews, I can tell you that.”

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