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DUVAL TOILS AT UNEASY PEACE.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

David Duval's search for lost glory took him all over the Riviera Country Club golf course Thursday and Friday. He went left, he went right. He hacked through the rough, he bumped around the fringes. He wandered among the trees, he got stuck behind a scoreboard, he had to beg for a hot-pretzel peddler's cart to be rolled out of his line - and all of that happened on one wild hole in the Nissan Open's first round.

Duval was on the tournament's midway leaderboard, but this wasn't the way we remember him getting there in years past, back when he was in a seesaw race with Tiger Woods for the No. 1 world ranking.

``I hung in there,'' said Duval, who sank chip shots three times the past two days to make up for his still-errant driver and irons. ``I had some really good shots and I had some really bad shots. Typical round of golf.''

No, it's not the Duval we remember. It's the Duval of the past season and a half. It's the Duval who's scrambling, who's struggling to get back to the top, who's making a shaky peace with a millionaire's version of hard times.

Once, he was the man stepping forward to act as Tiger's requisite rival, but now that role belongs to Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Duval hasn't won a tournament since the 2001 British Open victory that was supposed to vindicate him but left him strangely less ``enthused'' about his career. First and second on the PGA Tour earnings list in his four-win seasons of 1998 and '99, he finished 80th in 2002, a year made harder off the course by his breakup with fiancee Julie McArthur. He hasn't banked a penny in 2003 after missing the cuts at the Bob Hope and Pebble Beach.

And did I forget to mention how he got off on the wrong foot Thursday at Riviera, an ingrown toenail causing him to walk on the edge of his right shoe, the weird gait making his ankle and knee sore?

Everything considered, he had good reason to be happy with rounds of 69 and 70 that put him 3 under par and in a tie for fifth place, five strokes behind leader Charles Howell III.

``I feel good about it,'' Duval said around lunch time Friday. ``Ironically, if anything I haven't hit the golf ball quite as well as I did in my two tournaments where I missed the cuts. (But) I got back in the essence of the game and scored well.

``I have done a few things in the last two days which I hadn't done in the first two events as far as getting the ball in the hole, getting around the golf course, not sweating. I think I am a little bit more ready to play.''

Before his breakthrough at England's Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the questions for Duval were about why he could win any tournament except a major.

Those are easy questions compared to the ones he puzzles over every day as he works to piece back together the game that produced that 59 at the 1999 Hope.

What must it be like to always hear Els' and Mickelson's names in the same sentences with Woods', where your name used to be? Duval, bright and articulate, warms to the question, but the warmth doesn't last.

He said he enjoys watching others play golf well. He is ``comfortable with where I am and what I have done'' in his career. He doesn't ``have that envy that I think is prevalent out here on tour.''

``And I certainly do not envy Tiger's life or what he has to go through. It is a tremendous burden to deal with,'' Duval said. ``Obviously, you can talk about the fact I haven't played very well for the last year. But I am perfectly content and believe that I will play again like I can play this year.''

A writer (hello) told Duval that some people reading those quotes might get the idea he is ``less than driven'' to get back to No. 1. Duval's mood turns cold.

``How can you interpret it that way?'' he said, starting sharply. ``Explain that to me, please.''

I told him other players would like to have Woods' life.

They wouldn't describe themselves as ``comfortable'' as they try to climb out of a slump like this.

They would say this golfing wilderness is driving them crazy.

``Maybe you are not comfortable with who you are or what you have done,'' Duval said, but added, ``I am 31 years old. I have played, I think, about 10 years as a professional. And with the exception of last year, I never finished worse than 11th on the money list. Tell me what the problem is.

``Dwelling on last year,'' Duval said, ``is not going to help me.''

For Duval, it's a shaky peace indeed.

All over Riviera on Thursday and Friday, he took steps in the right direction, clutch chips and putts keeping him in contention at the Nissan Open even though he didn't strike the ball that well. It's not the way David Duval is supposed to play, but it beats missing another cut.

``I feel like if I can continue to hit a little bit sharper, then I will be fine,'' he said as his first Saturday tee time of 2003 beckoned. ``I have managed to hang in there.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

David Duval has come to terms with his struggles as he tries to emerge in top form.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 22, 2003
Words:935
Previous Article:NOTEBOOK: AMAZING HOW WELL HOWELL CAN DRIVE.
Next Article:NISSAN OPEN INSIDE LOOK: BERGANIO SOLID ON HOME STRETCH LOCAL FAVORITE REBOUNDS TO MAKE CUT.


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