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Love & Duval trying to end winless streaks

The Buick Challenge is not a bad place for David Duval to make his return to the PGA Tour.

A year ago, David Toms's back was in so much pain that he pulled out of the pro-am and spent more time in the fitness trailer than the practice range. By the end of the week he was strong enough to hold up the trophy.

Duval found that interesting today, but failed to see it as an omen.

"I don't have a bad back,'' he said with a smile, perhaps trying to forget about the two months he spent off tour, most of that time spent lying on his back.

After playing 16 holes late Tuesday and reporting no problems a day later during a light day of practice, Duval said he was at least 80 percent and in good shape that he might even win this week on the Mountain View course at Callaway Gardens.

"This week will obviously be very telling,'' he said.

That's true for a lot of players.

This is crunch time for several players as the tour heads into its final six weeks. For some, every tournament counts toward their hopes of making enough money to finish in the top 125 and avoid having to go back to qualifying school.

For others, like Duval and Davis Love III, time is running out on them to not let the year go by without a victory.

Whatever internal pressure exists is softened by the serenity of Callaway Gardens, a quiet resort tucked in the hills of western Georgia, nearly 100 miles from Atlanta and a world way from the weekly bustle that typically surrounds a PGA Tour event.

"The only way to get stuck in traffic is if you get behind a combine,'' Stewart Cink said.

Love already has some hunting planned for the week. He knows the area so well that a Japanese photographer sought him out for a good restaurant.

"I'm comfortable here,'' Love said. "Maybe I'll play a more relaxed game and just enjoy myself a little more.''

Winning would make this week a whole lot of fun.

A year ago, buoyed by the American victory in the Ryder Cup, Love talked about time running out on his chance to win and get the winners-only Mercedes Championship in Maui. He didn't make it, and might miss again.

His last victory was the

Duval has gone 29 tournaments since his last victory, the BellSouth Classic outside Atlanta in March '99. Part of that has to do with the fact he hasn't played.

Davis Love III trying to end 2000 on a high.Allsport.

His last 18-hole round was on Sunday at St. Andrews, where he tried to make up a six-shot deficit with a bad against Tiger Woods and wound up buried in the Road Hole bunker in theOpen.

He withdrew from The International with severe pain two weeks later after playing only six holes, and has been flat on his back most of the time since. Duval started hitting balls again Sept. 15, and has put in about 10 hours over seven sessions.

The only concern is residual soreness, and standing around for what has become five-hour rounds on the PGA Tour. His preparation for that included fishing in the days before he returned to golf.

"I'd be standing three to four hours in the river,'' he said. "And I got out with no problems.''

His expectations are high, only because his mind his fresh. Duval said he is hitting ball surprisingly well given how much time he has had off, although he probably won't be particularly sharp around the greens.

Can he win?

"I think I can, actually,'' Duval said. "Certainly, I'm fit mentally as far as being fresh. And I'll probably have a good game plan. I know I'm not as sharp, so I'll probably be playing pretty conservatively.''

That seemed to work well for Toms last year. Duval can only hope for an encore.

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