- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 15, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. David Duval's demeanor has undergone a major overhaul.

The 29-year-old British Open champion rolled into the interview center at the 83rd PGA Championship yesterday less than a month removed from his breakout major victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and shocked those in attendance; the one-time Duke of Dour smiled once, twice, five times, enough to require an accountant. He cracked jokes and mugged for the cameras, acting nothing like the player who spent the first six-plus years of his pro career connected to an IV of castor oil.

"I think there's a definite change," said Duval when asked about the effects of winning a first major. "The job of you folks in here is to question [why any high-caliber player] hasn't won a major. And we can say as much as we want that we believe we can, but until you go do it, it doesn't answer the questions. Once you do it, that little bit of a question mark disappears, and I think you get looked at as more of a champion."

And, in turn, perhaps you feel and act more like a champion.

The traditionally introverted Duval even shared an anecdote about his post-British charter flight from England to Toronto for a skins game.

"We had quite a nice celebration on the plane ride," said Duval, who went on to explain exactly what he drank out of the claret jug that night. "Dom Perignon, Louis XIII, and one other thing that I'm not going to tell you. I think the R&A; might get mad. It wasn't nearly in that price range. It was only like a couple of dollars a bottle, but I had to do it. I had to experience it.

"I have felt better on Mondays. But you know what? It was fun, and I played OK [at the skins game]. I almost missed the ball on the first tee, but I managed to advance it."

So, Duval is drinking Boone's County out of the claret jug and actually having fun on the golf course. If the former might mortify the old men of St. Andrews, the latter ought to terrify most of the young men preparing to whack it around at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week.

Duval's career has followed a distinctive pattern. It took him 86 starts and seven second-place finishes before he broke through for his first regular Tour victory at the 1997 Michelob Championship. Once he cleared that first psychological hurdle, however, he went on to win three straight events to close out the 1997 season and then continued his strong play into 1998. Overall, he won seven times in 21 starts between the end of 1997 and October of 1998.

In similar fashion, it took him 10 top-11 finishes in his 13 major starts between the 1998 Masters and this year's U.S. Open before he finally broke through at the British. With that mental block in the majors behind him, perhaps he's now set to string together Slam successes in much the same way.

"It's a little bit different in that it's not week to week to week. It's April to June to July to August," said the former Georgia Tech standout. "I think it's a little bit harder to have that momentum, that carry over effect, if you will, in the majors. But certainly I think it opens doors for me, and I come into these events knowing I can win playing at different levels of my own ability."

Few courses would be better suited to a Duval encore than Atlanta Athletic Club's Highlands Course. The rain-saturated 7,213-yard, par-70 course might prove to be the longest test in major championship history. And Duval, ranked fifth on Tour in driving distance (294.1), is both longer and more accurate off the tee than tournament favorite Tiger Woods.

"I would think David would have to be the favorite this week, not Tiger," Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke said yesterday. "That's not discounting Tiger, but David is just as long, he's on form and I gather he went to school around here, so the crowd will probably be behind him. That said, Tiger's the only guy to win back-to-back majors in a long time."

If golf's Darth Vader can figure out how to smile without a plastic surgeon, then anything is possible, certainly a Duval double.

"If anything, I think I want it more now that I've had a taste," said Duval. "I think I have greater confidence because of what happened at Lytham. That was just a wonderful feeling, and I want to continue to experience it."

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