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Cinderella at Bethpage Black

After 36 holes at the 2009, US Open at Bethpage Black, the annual US Open, “Cinderella Story”, finds itself being written

Except that this is no Cinderella. This man is the only player in the last 15 years who has truly challenged the dominance of one, Tiger Woods. He was the #1 player in the world for most of 1998 and 1999. He won the 2001, British Open and the 1997 Players Championship. He shot a final round, 59, to win a PGA Tour event (the Bob Hope Classic). He was unstoppable.

David Duval is an enigma. As a child he was deeply affected by the death of his brother. So much so, that he blamed himself for his brother’s passing. Duval was a very shy and withdrawn teenager and was even more reserved after finishing his brilliant career at Georgia Tech, where he was a 4-time, All American, before he began playing, for a living.

On Tour he was a loner, who kept quietly to himself and seemed to do anything to avoid the spotlight. You rarely saw footage of Duval without his Oakley sunglasses and while he always answered reporters’ questions politely, you got the feeling that his doing an interview, was for him, right up there with having a root canal.

For the first 4 years on the PGA Tour, Duval came excruciatingly close to winning, before he actually did finishing second, 7 times before breaking through in 1997. Over the next 4 years, he won 13 PGA Tour events, was the Player of the Year, and three times a member of the US Ryder Cup team.

At the dawn of the new millennium, a funny thing happened. David Duval fell in love. Duval married his wife Susie in 2001 and moved to Denver, Colorado. Susie had three children from her first marriage that Duval was soon devoted to. Instead of practicing, he took kids to their soccer games. Instead of doing corporate outings the family went skiing.

And Duval’s golf game hit the slopes. In 2003, he started trying to swing the club differently. Duval’s swing has always had a few quirks, but they were quirks……that worked. In particular his club-face was “shut” at the top of his backswing and he “trapped” the ball (produces a left to right ball-flight).

Duval also became a fitness fanatic. Always a little on the pudgy side, by 2004, he had trimmed down to 170 lbs. and looked, great. In 2004, he made a grand total of one cut, playing in 20 Tour events.

But it didn’t seem to matter because David Duval was perhaps for the first time in his life, truly happy. In 2007, Susie gave birth to their son after a precarious pregnancy and earlier this year, they welcomed their second baby.

Over the ensuing years, he has become something of a novelty. Playing between 15 and 20 tournaments a year, Duval was someone the announcers would talk about when they needed to fill some air time, and was never a competitive threat.

Last year, at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, Duval seemed to re-light the fire of old and after two rounds he was only 3 shots out of the lead. Duval opened his 3rd. round with a triple bogey before ballooning to an 81. So much for the comeback.

Over the last few months, Duval has been telling people that he is “really close” to re-capturing his old form. The scoreboards have not reflected that confidence, with his best finish being a tie for 55th. at Pebble Beach.

Lately, however, it’s not just been Duval that says he is close; but other Tour players, have been hinting that the old Duval might be on his way back. For one thing, his swing resembles the “old Duval” a lot more than the “perfect Duval”, as does his physique.

In the first round at Bethpage, Duval played beautifully and shot a 3-under par, 67. He then started his second round by making 4 bogeys in 5 holes, and you couldn’t help but feel that it was Birkdale all over again. Duval then played almost flawless golf and made 5 birdies in the last twelve holes to finish at 3 under par at the halfway mark. He is in a tie for 4th. place, 5 shots behind third round leader, Ricky Barnes.

There are still 36 holes left to play and it will be in the crucible that is the US Open, but this may be the corner that Duval has been waiting to turn.