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David Duval starts season with few expectations

David Duval gets a new start this year, and no one is sure what to expect. Least of all, him.

Formerly No. 1 in the world, Duval took a seven-month break from golf last year before returning to the U.S. Open. He was refreshed, happier than ever with his new wife and family, and showed promise toward the end of the season when he made the cut in three of his last six events.

But his offseason golf consisted of only 15 holes. Not rounds -- holes.

And 10 of those came Tuesday at Torrey Pines, a course he has not seen in seven years.

"It's been cold, and there's a lot of snow on the ground," said Duval, who now lives in Denver. "I had planned on practicing a bit, but it just didn't work out."

The rust level is high, and his expectations are low as he begins his season at the Buick Invitational this week.

"I guess my biggest goal would be just to work on the things I've been working on and feel that much more comfortable with it," Duval said, referring to a change to a weaker grip. "I'm not as far along as I would have liked to have been. I just have to continue to work on it."

Indeed, he remains a work in progress.

After a 20-minute session with the media, Duval headed for the range. After going through some wedges, middle and long irons, he pulled his driver from the bag and hit the first one onto Torrey Pines Boulevard. The next one was pure, some 300 yards to the back end of the range. The third was a snap hook.

Chris Perry stood behind him, making a few observations. Before long, most of his shots were relatively straight. But when he showed up Wednesday morning for his pro-am round, Duval walked stiffly.

"I'm sore," he said. "I haven't hit that many balls in a while."

How long did he stay on the range?

"About an hour," he said.

OK, so he's no Vijay Singh.

And by the sound of it, Duval has no plans to be Singh -- at least in terms of trying to take away his No. 1 ranking.

He has long believed -- even before winning 11-of-34 starts to ascend to No. 1 in the world in 1999, and later winning the 2001 Open Championship -- that there is more to golf than simply winning.

In fact, it was that claret jug he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that made him wonder, "Is that all there is?"

Duval will measure success by his own standards. For now, it means feeling comfortable with his swing, getting the sensation of a clean shot and most of all, enjoying his time on the PGA Tour.

He isn't one who believes confidence comes only through winning.

"I'll never forget many years back, I went to dinner with (NFL coach) Marty Schottenheimer, and that was one of the big discussions we had," Duval said. "Which comes first, success or confidence? You can kind of argue both sides. Do I have a lot of confidence? I don't know if I do or not. Do I need to have some success to do it? You've got to go both ways with it.

"I don't even remember what side I was arguing that night."

A forgotten man last year, it won't be hard for him to disappear at Torrey Pines -- and not just because heavy rains have made the rough thicker than usual.

The attention is at the top of the rankings -- Duval is No. 526, one spot ahead of Jay Delsing, who's caddying for Corey Pavin this week.

Singh is starting to entrench himself at No. 1 in the world, coming off a victory last week in the Sony Open for his 10th title in 28 starts.

Tiger Woods is starting to find his groove, and only a dozen putts he missed inside 8 feet kept him from winning the Mercedes Championships at Kapalua. Ernie Els might have played the best of anyone so far this year, finishing one shot behind Singh at the Sony Open, and two shots back at Kapalua after hitting a tee shot out-of-bounds on the last hole.

Mickelson is the only player in the top five who hasn't played this year, skipping the winners-only Mercedes Championships to make his '05 debut in his hometown.

The guys ahead of him in the rankings all have a head start on him.

But Lefty is coming off a great year -- his first major at the Masters, and a 59 to end the season in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf -- and he's eager to get going.

"I think what makes it so exciting is that we have so many guys now that are playing well, and so many guys that are challenging to win tournaments," Mickelson said. "It makes the journey and the challenge of winning tournaments tougher, but it's more rewarding if you can accomplish it."

 

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