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Duval keeping loss of form in perspective

It is probably just as well that David Duval, one of the most perceptive players in golf, has always had a much wider world view than most of his peers.

Last year, the likeable 31-year-old American failed to win a title for the first time since 1996 and his relative free-fall from the very top of the golfing pile in 1999 has been one of the most perplexing stories in the sport's history.

In 1998, Duval led the U.S. money list with earnings of more than $2.5 million. One year later, he became the third player to shoot a magical 13-under-par 59 on the PGA Tour before eclipsing Tiger Woods as the game's number one on March 28 1999.

Just two years ago, he finally clinched his first major after several narrow misses, when a closing 67 gave him a three-shot victory over Sweden's Niclas Fasthin the British Open at Royal Lytham.

Since then, however, there have been no further additions to the Duval trophy cabinet. He has plummeted to 60th in the world rankings and has missed the cut in three of his last five major starts.

Having secured top-10 finishes in the PGA Tour money list for six years in a row, he slumped to 80th last season with earnings of $838,045, not even a third of his haul from four years earlier.

By his own admission, a myriad of reasons were responsible for his golfing slide.

"It's a combination of confidence, patience, health, focus, my mental approach to thinking of how I'm playing and getting my way around the golf course, those kinds of things," Duval said toward the end of last year.

"I've had things going on elsewhere that are a distraction and you can look at it as if it's been quite a poor year golf-wise or you can choose to look at it as I did, with everything that's going on, and I felt okay."

Duval, as has generally been his habit, was able to place his golfing struggles into a much wider context.

"You figure winning a major will make you feel on top of the world for a long, long time, and then you realize it doesn't," he told Sports Illustrated magazine in a recent interview.

"If you're seeking personal fulfillment through that, my experience says you're not going to find it.

"Some people may but that's somebody who's leading a different life than I do. I think perspective probably is a hindrance to me. I have a pretty good grasp of the fact that (golf) is not particularly important in the end."

The Florida-based professional has suffered various injury and health problems over the last three years, struggling with back and wrist trouble in both 2000 and 2001 and from a form of vertigo earlier this season.

At the start of last year, he broke off his eight-year engagement to fiancee Julie McArthur and even his prodigious driving began to let him down.

Duval used to be acknowledged as one of the biggest hitters in the game but this year he ranks only 137th in average driving distance on the PGA Tour.

"His golf swing is not very good right now and hasn't been since he hurt his back (in 2000) and kept playing," Peter Kostis, a leading coach in the U.S. was quoted as saying in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

"David got into some bad habits...he doesn't have enough turn going back and his posture is bad. Both have led to a more closed clubface than normal at the top of his backswing and extra body rotation in the forward swing."

Previously, Duval was able to strike full-blooded shots with virtually no hint of sidespin but now he is quite capable of sending the ball either left or right.

The negative results have been plain for all to see on this season's PGA Tour, where Duval has missed the cut six times in seven starts in strokeplay events.

He began the year promisingly with a seven-under-par 65 at the Bob Hope Classic but still missed the four-round cut there and has since fired two rounds in the eighties with a further five worse than 75.

Last year, he had a stroke average of 70.60, this season it has climbed to 74.11.

The man who made PGA Tour history by winning playoffs in consecutive weeks in 1997 and went on to win two of his first three events in 1999 -- the second of them the Bob Hope Classic where he closed with a stunning 59 -- is battling.

Duval, whose father Bob is a former tour player, has always wanted to win titles and especially majors. He has always believed he was good enough to do so, good enough to join the game's elite.

But golf has never been the be-all and end-all for a superfit man who enjoys reading, fly-fishing and mountain-biking and is often happiest when he is snowboarding at Sun Valley.

For Duval, there will always be perspective. "It's a silly old game and I've made it a lot bigger than it is at times," he said.

"I've got all kinds of things going my way. Is the worst thing in my life that I finished 80th on the money list last year? That I made only $800,000? I mean, are you kidding me?"

 

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