PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Lee Trevino is fond of saying that a hurt golfer is a dangerous golfer. David Duval is a hurt golfer. How dangerous he is will be determined this week when he tries to beat Tiger Woods and the rest of the field at The Players Championship.
Last season, Duval suffered from a bad back. This season, he suffers from a bad right wrist that forced him to withdraw from the previous two tournaments. Last season, Duval sat out for 10 weeks to let his back heal, then won his only tournament of the year the week he returned at the Buick Challenge. It's only been a two-week rest this time. "I'm not as prepared as I would like to be but the last time I came back after 10 weeks off I won a golf tournament," Duval said.
"It's the third or fourth time I've done that. I did it a couple of times coming off snowboarding, having not hit a golf ball, and I won a golf tournament. So I'm pretty excited about the prospect, really."
How ironic it is that after winning The Players Championship in 1999, Duval was the No. 1 player in the world? How ironic it is that after he went into an intense conditioning program before the start of the 2000 season, injuries have plagued him? How ironic it is that after building a better body to challenge Woods, it's that better body that has let him down? Makes him feel like he ought to go back to the couch potato days, the days of a large pizza, a six-pack and ESPN.
Duval was the talk of golf in 1999. He won four tournaments that year and 11 over a 1 1/2-year span that began in the fall of 1997. Those numbers were posted before Woods started building his own extraordinary record. Woods' win Sunday at Bay Hill, his first of 2001, was his 25th tournament victory in less than five full seasons. Duval has a total of 12, but only one since the last week of March in 1999.
The talk surrounding Duval recently has been about his health and his legal status. Having jumped equipment ships from Titleist to Nike, where he comes in as the clear No. 2 to Woods with a deal for $7 million a year, Duval is being sued by Titleist for breach of contract. He won't talk about it now, and clearly doesn't seemed disturbed about it.
Ironically, Duval has become Nike's guinea pig for its entry into the club field. While Woods plays a Nike ball, his clubs remain Titleist.
But the closest Duval's play has been to Woods' was at the World Cup in Argentina last November where he dragged partner Woods along to victory. That performance, combined with his victory at the Buick Challenge, had Duval thinking he could be a significant challenger to Woods this season. Then comes the wrist injury.
"It stinks. It's not fun," Duval said. "I was laughing about it the day it happened ... because the first thought I had is I don't think anybody is going to believe me. I think everybody is going to think I hurt my back. The best way I can look at it, there's no way that you can keep going (this way). There's no way. I'm looking forward to that upside here soon."
(Optional add end)
Over the past two years, Duval and Woods have become close friends. They have traveled together, played together, practiced together, fished together. Duval was Woods' closest pursuer the last day during Woods' triumph at the British Open at St. Andrews last year. Woods, with the tournament in hand, cringed as Duval made a quadruple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round. "David is a great champion," Woods said after the round.
Despite his record, Duval has yet to record a major championship victory. Woods has five. But Duval has a Players Championship and Woods does not. Duval considers that a significant accomplishment because he believes the Players is the toughest tournament to win. Why? "Because everybody is here," Duval said. Now he has to hope that his physical well-being is here, too.
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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