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Duval Enjoys Group Therapy

Former No. 1 player who has dropped sharply in rankings makes most of a few breaks, shoots 69 while playing with Woods.

February 21, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Like just about everyone else playing the Nissan Open, David Duval might as well have been invisible when he teed off Thursday at Riviera Country Club. Tiger Woods, coming off a victory Sunday at Torrey Pines in his season debut, was the main attraction, and Duval, playing in the same group with Woods, was mostly an afterthought.

Two years ago, this would have been a marquee pairing, one sure to draw attention because of the rivalry between the top two golfers in the world. Thursday, the man once considered the chief challenger to Woods, the only man other than Woods to hold the world No. 1 ranking during the last five years and the man who won the 2001 British Open, has fallen so far that he went largely unnoticed in the shadow of Woods.

Until, of course, he shot a two-under-par 69 and finished the first round in a tie for sixth place. Only six players who teed off in the gusty afternoon winds broke par and Duval was one of them. Then they started to remember the guy who won 11 times during a 16-month stretch that covered 1997-99 and shot 59 in the final round to win the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

"I'm pretty pleased," Duval said, which for him means he's ecstatic. "All in all it was nice to shoot a good score."

The score was better than the play, for the most part. Duval got a few breaks along the way. On the first hole, he ballooned a three-wood way right, missed the green with his fourth shot and had to chip in from 20 feet away to save par.

On the par-three sixth hole, the one with a bunker in the green, he hit his tee shot into the fringe of that bunker, then chipped over it. The ball bounced once, and then into the hole for a birdie. On the 18th hole, he hit his approach shot well right of the green -- almost a sure bogey on a tough hole -- but the ball hit a tree and bounced onto the green. Duval stole a par.

"It just shows that there are different ways to play the game," Duval said.

Lately, no matter how Duval has been playing, things haven't worked out so well. Last year he had only two top-10 finishes and wound up 80th on the money list -- the first time since 1995 he finished outside of the top 10.

Duval, now ranked 29th, has missed the cut in both his starts this year, at the Bob Hope and at Pebble Beach, but he was encouraged by his first round Thursday.

"The first couple of events, I played well but didn't score," Duval said. "Today I didn't play all that well, but I scored, so maybe I'm kind of putting all the pieces together."

Duval went snowboarding in Idaho last week and said he did not watch Woods' return from December knee surgery.

"I have my priorities," he said.

He did not watch the drama unfold as Phil Mickelson and Woods played together in what was supposed to be a dramatic final-round pairing. It was No. 1 vs. No. 3 in that group last week, a rivalry intensified when Mickelson criticized the Nike equipment used by Woods.

That type of remark probably wouldn't come from Duval, who also plays with Nike equipment, but he used to be that guy, in that arena with Woods, and he would like to get there again.

"I didn't really think about wanting to be in that group last week," Duval said. "I don't have golfer envy. But I do miss being in the final group on Sunday and competing to win. I definitely miss that."

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