PGA Tour

David Duval returns to Hilton Head, achy but hopeful

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comApril 11, 2012 

A man with curly hair, sunglasses and brown leather sandals stood alongside No. 16 tee at Harbour Town Golf Links, watching a familiar face.

"He shot 59 one year, tore it all up," the man said, to no one in particular. "Almost won everything he entered."

It was a succinct recap of what most remember of David Duval, known as much for his rise to the top of the Official World Golf Rankings, a historic round and 2001 British Open title as for his subsequent disappearance in the years since. But Duval is still around, with gingerly knees but a swing he believes still passes the test of tournament golf.

He's in the field at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on a sponsor's exemption, playing 2012 on past champions status. The appearance is his first at Harbour Town in 15 years.

"I forgot how beautiful it is," Duval said. "It's been a long time. But I've been wanting to come back for a while. It just hasn't worked out. I'm just glad to be here."

From 1997 to 2001, Duval earned 13 PGA Tour victories, including the British Open, the 1997 Tour Championship and the 1999 Players Championship, which came on the same day his father, Bob, won on the Champions Tour. His victory at the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic included a record-tying 59.

Reclaiming that magic has been in the works the past decade.

Bob Duval walked with his son during Tuesday's practice round. David Duval signed autographs when asked, obliging fans between holes and after he walked off the 18th green.

"He hit some nice shots," said Beaufort resident Mark Anderson, who played with Duval on Tuesday. "He wasn't feeling too good. I know he was hurting. But he hit some really nice ones. It looked like he's pretty close to playing well."

After being shuttled back to the clubhouse, Duval eventually made his way to the Allegheny Sports Medicine trailer. "Getting athletes back on course," the painted slogan reads.

If there is a roadblock to Duval's return to consistency, it might be his health -- specifically, his knees. But he feels his golf is on the correct path, despite missing the cut in each of his first six PGA Tour events this season.

"If I didn't feel really good about what I'm doing and the things I'm doing, I wouldn't be doing it, chasing it," Duval said. "I'm playing well, I feel great about what I'm doing. And it's just a matter of time."

It might be wise not to count out Duval. He tumbled down the world rankings after claiming his major championship, but re-emerged to finish tied for 16th at the 2006 U.S. Open, tied for 29th at the 2008 British Open at tied for second at the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. The 40-year-old said he has been working on his takeaway, trying to avoid closing the clubface on the way back.

He otherwise feels his game is in good shape.

"I love playing golf; I love competing," Duval said. "And I'm really good at it. Things haven't quite added up for me over the last few years. But you know, it's only a week away."

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