- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

With apologies to Lucas Glover, the rebirth of David Duval was by far the best thing that happened to golf at Bethpage.

Between Phil Mickelson’s chivalrous departure and the slump epidemic rampant among the sub-Tiger elite, the game has never been more desperate for a best supporting actor.

Enter Duval, the 37-year-old former World No. 1 who resurrected his career with a gutsy runner-up finish at Bethpage Black.

“It may be arrogance, but it’s where I feel like I belong,” said Duval after recording his first top-10 finish since tying for sixth in 2002 at Las Vegas. “It’s very difficult to sit here and say second place is a failure. It is very much a success. … I’m now even more confident in what I’m doing. So affirmation, possibly we could equate it to that.”

If you think Duval is going to vanish again after his U.S. Open uprising, forget it. After watching him follow his first-round 67 with three consecutive rounds in which he clawed back from early rough patches, Inside Write is ready to pronounce him restored to his previously indefatigable self.

“The way he rallied time and time again was unreal,” said Duval’s instructor and former coach at Georgia Tech, Puggy Blackmon. “That was vintage Duval. He had that look again, that confidence. It’s been coming. The fact that it happened at the U.S. Open was something of a surprise. But then again, that’s David. He loves the big stage. I think you’ve just seen the first of many such performances to come.”

Explaining Duval’s seven-year disappearance is complex: It started with postpartum depression after the delivery of his only major title (2001 British Open) left him feeling hollow instead of heroic. Then came the ugly rumors that then-fiancee and longtime girlfriend Julie McArthur was having an affair. They broke up, and Duval slipped deeper into an existential morass.

Then came back problems (2003-04) and a disastrous set of swing changes that might have helped his back but completely destroyed his game. Swing technicians David Leadbetter, Rick Smith and Hank Haney all tinkered under the hood (2004-05), trying to “fix” an unorthodox move built around one of the most severe “motorcycle” grips in history. That only exacerbated Duval’s massive issues with driving accuracy.

In 2004, Duval married a single mother of three (the former Susie Persichitte) and totally immersed himself in domestic life. The couple then had two more children (Brady in 2005 and Sienna in 2007), and Susie experienced tough pregnancies each time, pulling Duval even further from golf. He made only seven starts in 2007.

Last year, he was finally ready to recommit to the sport. He and Blackmon re-created his swing using videos of his Georgia Tech days, and Duval had made baby steps of improvement (tied for 39th at the 2008 British Open) before last week’s huge leap.

“I think the bottom line is that David is not going to go off again because he knows what his swing is and he understands it,” Blackmon said. “This was huge for his confidence, which has been the only thing really lacking.”

And potentially huge for golf, because the “elite” pickings beyond Tiger look pretty slim. No. 2 Mickelson could be out the rest of the season. No. 3 Paul Casey has never finished in the top five at a major. No. 4 Sergio Garcia hasn’t sniffed a victory this season. Nos. 7 (Kenny Perry) and 9 (Vijay Singh) are pushing fossil status (average age of 47). No. 6 Geoff Ogilvy plays his best golf during basketball season. And Nos. 5, 8 and 10 are named Henrik Stenson, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk. Yawn. No. 11 Padraig Harrington seems to have retired after last year’s PGA Championship. And No. 12 Camilo Villegas, No. 15 Anthony Kim and No. 16 Rory McIlroy still require slam seasoning.

Golf needs somebody with gravitas to tangle with Tiger at Turnberry in next month’s British Open, and Duval is the candidate who best fits the bill. So, welcome back, Mr. 59, former No. 1 and 13-time winner. Welcome back, 2001 British Open champion, one-time major staple and Tiger’s original rival. Welcome back, dour David. Your Goliath awaits.

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