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Refreshed David Duval returns to action

David Duval sounded as if he's headed to the Sun Valley slopes to snowboard, not to the California desert to start his PGA Tour season.

"I'm fired up about playing," he said as he prepared for the Bob Hope Classic. "I'm swinging really well, I really am. We'll see what happens."

It can't be much worse than last year.

A poor West Coast swing turned into a miserable first half of the season, and the tailspin continued. By year's end, the results hardly looked as if they belonged to the only player besides Tiger Woods to be ranked No. 1 in the world the last five years.

Duval had never finished lower than 11th on the money list since his rookie season in 1995. He rallied over the last month to finish 80th.

Duval finished in the top three at least four times every season. Last year, his best result was a tie for fourth. His world ranking plummeted from No. 3 to No. 24.

At least he kept his sense of humor. Duval returned from a Christmas vacation in Sun Valley and cracked, "I had a better time snowboarding in two weeks than I had all year playing golf."

The goal now is to put some enjoyment into the sport that made him famous.

"There is so much game there," Rocco Mediate said. "He's supposed to be in the top 10 the rest of his life. That was a big surprise. When you've got guys who do that well for so long, something is going on, things we don't even know about."

Some of it started a year ago this week.

Duval, who won the '99 Bob Hope Classic with a 59 in the final round, went through the motions and tied for 48th last year. He was supposed to play in the Phoenix Open the next week but took off shortly after he signed in.

Weeks later, Duval revealed he had split with his fiancee of eight years, a decision that weighed heavily for several months.

"There's always a question whether you're doing the right thing," he said.

Duval also was involved in lawsuits and countersuits with Titleist over a breach of contract, a dispute eventually settled in arbitration.

Inside the ropes wasn't much better.

He withdrew from the final round of the Nissan Open with food poisoning that caused him to drop more than 10 pounds overnight. The next week, Kevin Sutherland birdied the last two holes and knocked him out of the first round in the Match Play Championship. Then, he went to Doral and missed the cut for the first time in a year.

Some thought his British Open victory at Royal Lytham in 2001 would lead to more majors. Instead, he missed the cut in the first two majors last year and didn't contend in the others.

Slowly, a lack of interest took root.

"I don't know when it started ... somewhere after Augusta," Duval said. "I started feeling like, 'I don't want to be out here any more.' I'd take a week or two off, get fired up, and then was thinking about being somewhere else.

"Who knows? On a subconscious level, maybe I was taking six or seven months off."

While Duval concedes the off-the-course issues took a toll, he traces most of his malaise to winning the British Open the previous year.

It was the crowning moment of his career - at least that's what he was told. Over the next several months, he expected to be a changed man. Instead, he realized he had simply won an important golf tournament.

"It was a great week, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade it," he said. "But it took me all of a few days to start thinking, 'Is that all it's about?'

"It has nothing to do about caring. Believe me, I respect that I won it, as much as anybody who has ever won. But it made me realize it's about the journey. It's not about the destination, at least not for me."

The journey resumes this week at the Bob Hope Classic, where Phil Mickelson is the defending champion and Davis Love III - another guy who failed to win last year - makes his first start of the PGA Tour season.

Duval is starting a season without an injury for the first time in three years. And he thinks his perspective about golf is back where it belongs.

He'll find out Wednesday where it will lead him this year.

"I don't think he's going to be a nonfactor," Jerry Kelly said. "He's still David Duval. That play last year will just spur him to get back to where he was."


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