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Duval looking to return to winning ways

Among the new gadgets at The Players Championship is a video monitor that allows fans to select some of the best shots on the PGA Tour. David Duval walked by one Tuesday and was told the menu didn't include any from him.

``I haven't hit any good shots lately,'' he shot back with a smile.

That's not entirely true.

Two days ago, Duval was 78 yards from the front pin on the 16th hole at Bay Hill and hit his sand wedge exactly that distance on a perfect line. The ball hit the base of the pin and caromed back into the water.

He wound up with a 9 after curling in a 5-foot putt.

``I didn't count up the shots and I'm glad I didn't,'' he said. ``Because I probably would have missed the putt if I knew I needed it to avoid making a 10.''

At least he can still joke about it.

The rest of the season hasn't exactly been full of laughs.

The top five players in the world are rounding their games into form with two marquee championships coming up, The Players Championship this week and the Masters April 11-14.

Tiger Woods won at Bay Hill. Phil Mickelson won the Bob Hope Classic in his first tournament after a five-month layoff. Sergio Garcia won the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii. Ernie Els is winning all over the world.

The exception is Duval, whose early season has been full of distractions and disappointments again.

``This year so far has been a wreck,'' he said. ``For one reason or another, I have not been able to play as much as I'd like. And when I have, there's been no rhythm to it. So, it has not been very good golf.''

At least he's still playing.

A year ago, his season began in turmoil over a lawsuit with Titleist. He played poorly on the West Coast, then returned home and worked harder than ever on his game -- so hard, in fact, that he injured his wrist and sat out three weeks before the Masters.

This year hasn't been much different.

Duval missed three weeks in January when he broke up with his fiancee, ending an eight-year relationship that began in college.

In six tournaments, he still doesn't have a top 10 and has played only 19 rounds. He missed his first cut in more than a year (Doral), played only one round at the Match Play Championship (losing to eventual winner Kevin Sutherland) and had to walk off the course in the final round at Riviera with a stomach virus that caused him to drop 13 pounds.

So why are his spirits so high? Why is there a smile instead of a scowl?

This is Duval's favorite time of year, at tournaments where he has a history of success. He won The Players Championship three years ago to become No. 1 in the world, the only player besides Woods to hold that position since 1998.

He has contended on Sunday at Augusta National for the past four years and believes he could have won two of them.

Best of all, Duval thinks his swing has been better than the results show.

``I know where I'm at right now, and I know where I will be soon,'' he said. ``That's what is exciting, knowing that I can get back there.''

He spent about four hours on the range at Sawgrass with his father, Bob, the only teacher he has ever had. They worked primarily on alignment, and standing taller over the ball, taking the club back properly.

Duval wants to get back to where he was in 1999, the year he won four times before the Masters and became the first player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59 in a final round.

That was before a back injury two years ago that might have caused more problems than Duval first realized.

``When you're doing something for 15, 18 months, it takes a long time to get out of it,'' he said. ``It really wrecked my golf swing. I had to keep my lower back flat, and I ended up really rounding from my mid-back into my shoulders, just flopping the club around trying to generate some power.

``I look back and see some of the videos of old tournaments, and it's ... hard to watch. It was really bad.''

It hasn't been a total loss.

Duval still has a silver claret jug at home, courtesy of his 65-67 weekend at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in July to win the British Open. He still has a swagger. Even through his dark, wraparound sunglasses, he can manage to look at the bright side.

``It's just a matter of gutting it out and sticking with it,'' Duval said. ``When you're working your way out of stuff, you're really looking for the positive and just forgetting about the bad, the negatives.''

There already has been plenty to forget this year. Duval simply wants to play the way he did at his peak three years ago, and get the same kind of results.

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