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David Duval resigns with Nike

David Duval has received a vote of confidence from Nike and is returning to instructor David Leadbetter in an effort to sort out the swing problems that have dropped him from the top-ranked player on the World Golf Rankings in August 1999 to No. 242 at the beginning of the season.

However, there is still no indication when the Jacksonville native will make his 2004 debut. Because of a back injury, he hasn't played on the PGA Tour since the 2003 PGA Championship.

"He'll play when he thinks he's ready," Leadbetter said Friday after a practice session with Duval at his Orlando golf academy. "He's rehabilitating his swing and his back nicely."

Duval did not return a message left on his cell phone from the Times-Union.

Duval will at least be able to concentrate on repairing his back, swing and psyche with the knowledge that his equipment company is backing him on a long-term basis. Nike communications director Dean Stoyer told the Times-Union that Duval's contract had been extended on a multi-year basis. Stoyer would not disclose financial terms or the length of the extension.

Duval signed a four-year contract with Nike in 2001 that was worth, according to industry sources, about $7 million a year. He went on to win the British Open and finish among the top-10 in the Masters and the PGA Championship that year.

"We've still got confidence that David will make progress," Stoyer said. "He's been loyal to Nike, and we want to remain loyal to him."

Duval's return to Leadbetter marks his third change in swing instructors in less than a year. Duval began working with Leadbetter last spring after relying almost exclusively on his father, Bob Duval, for most of his life; then had sessions with Sea Island Resort teaching pro Jack Lumpkin in the late summer.

Leadbetter said Duval's swing difficulties, which have resulted in wild hooks and slices off the tee, won't be solved easily.

"If we knew exactly what the problem was, we would have solved it by now," Leadbetter said. "But David is working very hard and believes there is some progress being made."

Leadbetter said the hardest part of Duval's comeback has been the mental anguish of seeing his strength as a player become his weakness. Duval had one of the best combinations of distance and accuracy off the tee on the PGA Tour from 1997-2001, when he won 13 times.

"That's been the toughest thing for his psyche to handle," Leadbetter said. "You expect to see tee shots go long and down the middle, and they're all over the place."

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