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David Duval predicts "really great things"

David Duval predicts that he will end his winless streak over the next couple of weeks. Allsport

Holding his fingers just a fraction of an inch apart, David Duval described today how close he feels to playing his best golf.

"I think I'm that close to some really great things," said Duval, the world's No. 2-ranked player, as he looked ahead to Thursday's first round of the Buick Classic, and toward next week's United States Open. "The way I set up my schedule this year gave me a very good chance to win at Augusta, and I think the same thing will occur next week.

"But you know, I'm really looking forward to great things this week. You can talk a lot about next week, but I think I can win this golf tournament. My failing this year is that I haven't made as many putts. But I think my game is there. I'm really looking forward to playing."

So with the United States Open a week away, many of the world's best players have come to Westchester Country Club, to play the Buick Classic and to prepare for this year's second major,being heldat one of golf's most cherished venues, Pebble Beach Golf Links, a fitting place for the United States Open in2000.

But the Buick Classic will not be overlooked. Not with a $3 million purse, and $540,000 going to the winner. Not on a classic golf course that will pose a formidable challenge. Not with a field thatincludes 6 of the top 10 players in the world ranking --

Duval, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh,Ernie Els and Jesper Parnevik -- though Tiger Woods will be taking the week off.

Therough is a healthy four inches deep, which will make driving the ball accurately one of this week's keys. The deep rough and firm greens will make scoring difficult, and the players want it that way. What better way to prepare for the United States Open, where every par will be precious?

"This is a very good test of golf, and if you play well here, you know you're going to the Open with a very good feeling," said Singh, this year's Masters champion and a two-time winner of the Buick Classic. "The course has dried out tremendously. If you had not known that it rained so much here, you wouldn't have figured it out. If you're not hitting the ball well, you're going to shoot a very high score."

Singh is one of the subplots this week, after undergoing Lasik eye surgery last month. His familiar glasses are gone, and he is still adjusting to seeing things more clearly.

"The way I putted the last day at the Memorial, I thought I should do something drastic," said Singh, of his decision to have eye surgery. "I've worn glasses for six oreight years, dark glasses, so getting used to the light is going to be a little bit of a factor."

Love, Duval and Elsare enduring unfamiliar droughts.

Els has not won since February 1999,Love has not wonsince April1998. And Duval, who finished in a tie for third in the Masters,has not won since April1999, after a remarkable stretch in which he won 11 times in 17 months.

Not that any of those players have fallen off the map. Love has seven top-10 finishes this year while Duval and Els have five top-10 finishes each. But Els conceded that a victory would bolster his confidence.

"When you haven't won in 16 months, it means you've let some opportunities slip away," said Els, who won the Buick Classic in1996 and '97. "Tiger Woods has really sort of separated himself as the best in the world right now."

Woods is followinghis normal habit of taking off the week before a major. But there are many recognizable names for fans to follow, like Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Fred Couplesand Sergio Garcia.

TheWestchester Country Club layout has some unusual qualities.

It is the only course on tour that opens with a par 3, the 190-yard No. 1. The par-4, 473-yardNo. 12 was ranked the 17th toughest on tour last year, averaging 4.399 in scoring. There have been 21 holes-in-one in tournament history at the 133-yard No. 6. And the par-5, 526-yard finishing hole can be played a variety of ways, which often sets up an exciting finish.

Three of the last five Buick Classics have been decided in a playoff, including last year, when Duffy Waldorf defeated Dennis Paulson. So the next four days will be enough to hold everyone's attention.

"I've always enjoyed playing here, and the people have been great to me," Duval said.

"That's why I'm back."


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