LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — The last time he played this course on the northwest coast of England, David Duval was cheered by thousands as he made a celebratory walk up the 18th hole to claim his first major championship. The British Open was his, the rivalry with Tiger Woods was back on, and even the wraparound glasses couldn’t hide his delight in having finally won a big one.
Further proof that golf can be a fickle and cruel game came Wednesday, when Duval played his way around the links at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, a solitary figure accompanied only by his stepson and caddie. Fans filling the bleachers on the fourth green were so unimpressed most of them turned their backs to watch Lee Westwood play up the third fairway rather than watch Duval hit shots into the green.
Hard to blame them. It’s never pretty watching someone who once was a champion struggle with what he is now. And what Duval is now is a 40-year-old who hasn’t won a thing since his Open victory in 2001. He struggles mightily just to make the cut at most tournaments, and struggles just as much to explain why.
“I love playing the game. I’m really good at it,” Duval said. “But there’s times when I feel like – it’s like enough is enough. And I don’t mean golfwise, but I mean talking about it. It’s like kicking a dead horse. We know what’s happened.”
What’s happened is Duval has mostly disappeared from competitive golf. Once the No. 1 player in the world, he has made just two cuts this year in 13 tournaments, earning a grand total of $26,696.
His first trip to Lytham since winning the Open by three shots in 2001 doesn’t figure to last more than a few days unless he somehow finds the magic that’s eluded him for most of the last decade.
Duval blames injuries, and he listed enough of them Wednesday to fill a medical textbook.
He doesn’t much like talking about this; at times, he doesn’t seem to like talking about anything. Brought into the media tent for the obligatory last player to win at Lytham interview, the ex-Georgia Tech star bristled at a few questions and lobbed back a few of his own.
But he ended up answering them all, some with the kind of detail that few of the robotic players who have a chance at winning the Open this week would ever dare.
He also talked – though somewhat reluctantly – about Woods, whose private jet he shared back to the U.S. after Woods won at St. Andrews in 2000.
“We were decent friends 10 years ago, 12 years ago. We talked a fair amount,” Duval said. “Now? No. I don’t … are we friends? I guess so. We don’t talk.”
Duval believes he can still play at a high level, and says most of his problems stem from trying to do too much with a balky body.
“I think on two occasions I took extended time off, but in hindsight the big mistake I made in my career was not stopping sometime in early 2002 and probably not playing again until ’04,” Duval said. “I should have taken at least a year, maybe more, off. Just made sure everything kind of got healed, protected my confidence, protected my golf game and just given away that year and a half, not give away eight years like I did.”
That’s all ancient history now, a fact Duval readily acknowledges. But he can hope his game isn’t ancient history, too.