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David Duval trying to get back on track

David Duval headed down to the beach this morning to check out the surf in the aftermath of a storm that dumped over 4 inches of rain on the TPC at Sawgrass.

Two years ago, when Duval won The Players Championship to dethrone Tiger Woods as No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he could relate to the feeling of catching a big wave.

Today, he is a wipeout waiting to happen.

"It stinks,'' he said. "It seems like I've gotten into a little flow of bad things."

Little flow? This is more like a raging river.

Duval, who has dropped to No. 7 in the World Ranking, is not even sure he will be able to tee it up Thursday when the richest tournament in golf -- not to mention one of the toughest -- gets under way on the Stadium Course with a $6 million purse at stake.

Two weeks ago, trying to work his game into shape for his biggest stretch of the season, Duval spent four straight days pounding balls on the range. He felt a sharp pain in his right wrist and could barely grip the club.

The first thing he thought was, "I don't think anybody is going to believe me.''

His only hope now is that tendinitis in his right wrist is the worst thing that will happen to him the rest of the year.

With Duval, all bets are off.

It started a year ago, when a rigorous fitness regimen designed to build a body for life didn't get him through the summer. His back began to ache a week before the British Open, and Duval could barely bend over to retrieve his ball out of the cup while trying to stop Woods from making history at St. Andrews.

He had to skip nearly 10 weeks, including the PGA Championship, and salvaged his season by winning the Buick Challenge in his first tournament back and then pulling more than his share of the load while teaming with Woods to win the World Cup in Argentina.

David Duval has started off 2001 very poorly by his standards. Allsport.

It's been all downhill from there.

First came a nasty split with Titleist, which Duval declines to discuss because of pending litigation, and partly because he's tired of talking about it. Duval became the first tour player to try the Nike prototype irons, and he signed a four-year deal worth about $28 million with Nike earlier this month.

Whether it has been a distraction, only Duval knows. But there is no denying he is off to his worst start on the PGA Tour in five years.

"The best way I can look at it is, there's no way you can keep going,'' he said. "There's no way. I'm looking forward to that upside here soon.''

Duval plans to play this week, but will have an MRI on his right wrist if it doesn't get any better. He will consider cortisone shots as a last resort, but only at The Masters.

In the meantime is a pressing need to play, to continue his search for the rhythmic swing that took him to 11 victories in 34 starts not too long ago.

"I'm not as prepared as I would like to be,'' he said. "At the same time, I came back from 10 weeks off and won a golf tournament.''

What must be even more exasperating is to see other guys on the range whose idea of lifting weights is a pint of lager or a double cheeseburger, guys who have not been as prone to injury as Duval over the past year.

"I might just go back to the couch and eat Oreos and Doritos,'' Duval said.

With his luck, he might pull a muscle trying to open the bag.

Either way, the Stadium Course is no place for rehabilitation. Duval won The Players Championship in 1999 with a 3-under 285 when the course was baked out by the sun.

The rain closed the course on Monday, but a steady breeze and surprising sunshine began to dry it out today. The rough is the thickest anyone has seen this year, and the fairways are far from the generous landing areas at some of the resort courses on tour.

"I think this is the hardest golf tournament to win,'' Duval said.

That's how it was two years ago when he was on top of his game. It doesn't figure to get any easier now.

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