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David Duval shows return to form in Japan

The return of David Duval to the pinnacle of the game could be a pipe dream but the former world number one hinted at better times to come with his performance last week in Japan.

Having plummeted to a lowly 729th in the rankings after four years of struggle on and off the course, expectations were low for Duval when he arrived in Miyazaki for the Dunlop Phoenix tournament.

However, the 34-year-old American stunned the golfing world with an opening 64 and, though fading in the final round with a five-over-par 75, he ended the week on a high in a tie for seventh place.

Duval, whose fall from golfing grace has been one of the most documented in the game's history, finished six strokes behind winner Tiger Woods and has every reason to view the 2006 PGA Tour with increased confidence.

"I feel better and better about what I'm doing," the 2001 British Open champion told reporters after scores of 64, 68, 71 and 75 in Miyazaki.

"You have to gain some confidence and belief in yourself. When it's been chopped down to nothing, it takes a while to build it up.

"I've been number one and number 1,000, but I've hit bottom and I'm coming back up.

"Had the (PGA) Tour season been starting as opposed to ending now, I think I'd be doing well there," added the American, who climbed to 481st in the official world rankings announced on Monday.

"That said, there was certainly a huge comfort factor for me here."

Duval, whose last tournament victory came at the 2001 Dunlop Phoenix, made just one cut on the 2005 PGA Tour in 20 starts, tying for 60th at the Texas Open in September.

Eighteen missed cuts and a withdrawal from the Buick Invitational, his first start of the season, added up to a paltry $7,630 in prize money.

Over the last month, however, Duval believes he has been playing well enough without translating that into good scoring.

"I'm well aware of how I've played over the past few years, but I've worked hard and my golf swing is good," he said.

Duval attributes his four-year slump, in part, to injuries that have altered his swing, having struggled with back and wrist trouble in 2000 and 2001, a form of vertigo early in 2003 and shoulder problems this year.

"My physical condition is incredibly mediocre," he added. "My back hurts, my shoulder hurts but I don't say anything about it because I think it will always be there.

"I just want to perform in these events how I know I'm capable of playing."

In 1998, Duval was in his pomp and 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 Woods as the game's number one on March 28, 1999.

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

Since then, however, there have been no further additions to the Duval trophy cabinet. His prodigious driving began to let him down, he tumbled out of the world's top 500 and has made just eight PGA Tour cuts in the last three years.

Woods has found it difficult to watch.

"David is a friend of mine, we played in two World Cups together and he has really struggled," said the 10-times major winner. "But it looks like he's showing some signs he's starting to play a little better.

"It's hard to play this game at a high level for a long period if you're not healthy, and he tried to do that. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out."

Based on the evidence of Japan last week, however, it could be that Duval is finally working things out for the best.

November 22, 2005

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