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Duval's troubles on, off course weighty

He slimmed down but also shed a sponsor and his status as a contender.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- His weight having dropped nearly as fast as his world ranking, David Duval might be inclined to indulge in his previous bad habits. He gave up doughnuts for dumbbells and no longer appears so smart.

Duval joked about hitting the couch and eating Oreos and Doritos again, and maybe he should. How much could it hurt?

Certainly not as much as the aching right wrist he takes into the Masters, where he has been a factor each of the past three years. Duval just would like to be a factor anywhere.

The erstwhile No. 1-ranked player in the world has received more attention for his exploits off the course than on in 2001.

He has played in five tournaments, hasn't cracked the top 50 in a full-field event and has missed two cuts. He is embroiled in a controversy stemming from a new endorsement deal. And trying to regain his old form, he hit too many practice balls, developed tendinitis in his right wrist and had to withdraw from two tournaments, including his hometown Players Championship two weeks ago.

"Sure, I would have liked to have played more events this year and not missed some of the ones I had to miss," Duval said Tuesday at Augusta National, where he has been since Saturday, trying to chip the rust off his game while not risking further injury.

"Since I started hitting balls again last Thursday ... I would not say I feel like I haven't been able to practice enough since then. It's not an ideal situation; it's just how it is."

Duval is not exactly yearning for his fat and happy days, but since going on a strict diet and fitness regimen, his golf results have not been nearly as stunning.

Eight months ago, Duval was the No. 2 player in the world, considered the best bet to interrupt Tiger Woods' greatness. He made a brief run at Woods during the British Open despite a bad back that eventually caused him to miss 10 weeks, including the PGA Championship.

He came back at the Buick Challenge for his first win in more than a year and teamed with Woods to win the World Cup in December. But after tying for seventh at the season-opening Mercedes Championship, there has been little good to talk about.

"The best way I can look at it is there's no way that you can keep going," Duval said. "There's no way. I'm looking forward to that upside here soon."

Duval has dropped to No. 8 in the World Ranking. He is 105th on the PGA Tour money list with $135,558, all but $17,000 from the limited-field Mercedes. He is barely a factor in tour's statistical categories. This is the same Duval who two years ago had won 11 of 34 PGA Tour events. Now he has one victory in the past two years.

Adding to his woes is the recent flap with Titleist, the company with which he had a lucrative endorsement deal until late last year. Duval opted out of the contract -- his representatives say with legal merit -- because it no longer made him the highest-paid player. Titleist's parent company, Acushnet, filed a seven-figure lawsuit. Duval, 29, countersued and is not allowed to talk about the case. He signed a reported four-year, $28-million deal with Nike last month.

"I don't want to go as far as saying it's a distraction, but certainly it's not enjoyable to play under those circumstances," Duval said. "I've come to the realization that it might be with me another year or so. There's really no telling how long it's going to drag out."

Two years ago, Duval entered the Masters having won four tournaments, a feat not achieved in 25 years. He tied for sixth after narrowly missing a playoff in 1998. Last year he was in contention, only to hit his second shot on the final day into the creek at the 13th hole. He tied for third.

Now he just wants to play.

"The golf course sets up for me, and I know how to play it," Duval said. "There's nothing like this the rest of the year. I don't have many bad memories of golf tournaments. I feel like I have just as good of a chance to win this year as last year and the year before that and the year before that."

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