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Duval back in spotlight: 65


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- David Duval came to Augusta National for last year's Masters tournament with the weight of the world rankings on his shoulders. He was ranked No. 1, having capped a dominating stretch of more than a year with a victory in the Tournament Players Championship. The coronation was supposed to take place here. It didn't.

There was a noticeable difference when Duval arrived for the 64th Masters earlier this week. He was ranked second in the world, but treated almost as an afterthought. The coronation had already taken place, but it was Tiger Woods who assumed the throne. The expectations were there, but mostly they belonged only to himself.

"I have a lot of pressure on me for myself," Duval said yesterday, alluding to his well-chronicled quest for the elusive first major championship of his seven-year, 11-victory career. "I'm not particularly concerned with what outside pressures there are. Certainly there wasn't as much talk of me, if any of me, but that was fine. I just wanted to play."

After his best round ever in a major, Duval will inspire much talk heading into today's third round. With a sparkling, 7-under-par 65 yesterday that included a 30 on the back nine, Duval vaulted onto the leaderboard and into the lead. Three players -- former PGA champion Vijay Singh (67), two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els (67) and Phil Mickelson (68), who like Duval is looking for his first major title -- are one shot behind. Two others -- former British Open champion Tom Lehman and former U.S. Open champion Steve Jones -- are three shots back. Four more -- two-time champion Bernhard Langer, former PGA champion Jeff Sluman, Loren Roberts and Retief Goosen -- trail by four shots. Former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk is in a group of five that is at 1-under-par 143.

Perhaps the most disappointed player in contention was 60-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who continued to confound those who thought that the last of his record six green jackets came 14 years ago and his last run at another victory here came two years ago, when he finished tied for sixth.

Nicklaus was six shots behind at even-par 144 after a 2-under-par 70, but thought he should have been closer to, or even in, the lead.

"I'm not, but I think I should be," Nicklaus said.

Woods wasn't feeling that way. In fact, he was more upset after yesterday's even-par 72 than he was after an opening-round 75, given the more benign conditions that produced 17 scores in the 60s, compared with only two on Thursday.

Woods might have played himself out of contention with bogeys on two of the last three holes that left him nine shots behind Duval.

"I'm hitting it pretty well, just not getting the ball in the hole as well as I should," said Woods, who has failed to score below 70 here in each of the 10 rounds he has played since his 12-shot win three years ago. "I'm just going to try to play solid and, if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn't, it doesn't."

While it seems unlikely that Woods will win his third major and second straight after last summer's victory in the PGA Championship, Duval's performance provides him with the best chance since last year's Masters to end his personal drought in majors. In contention on Sunday a year ago, Duval double-bogeyed the 11th hole and finished tied for sixth.

It came a year after he blew a three-shot lead here with three holes to play and wound up losing to Mark O'Meara by a shot. Duval bogeyed the 16th hole and parred the last two, but O'Meara birdied three of the last four, including the last two, to win his first major.

Duval is also looking to end an overall winless streak that dates back to last year's Players Championship.

Mickelson, who will turn 30 during this year's U.S. Open in June, has the same goal as Duval this week. He came close to winning his first major in last year's Open, losing on the 72nd hole by one shot to the late Payne Stewart. He finished third here four years ago, the best finish ever at the Masters by a left-handed player.

"If I can stick to my game plan the way I did at the U.S. Open and be able to execute what I'm trying to do the way I did last week, I'll be able to perform tomorrow and Sunday," said Mickelson, who is coming off the 15th victory of his nine-year career and his second this season at last week's BellSouth Classic. "I've played well and I'm confident."

So is Duval. A year after shedding 30 pounds, he has become something of a fitness freak in order to stay competitive with Woods. There are those who believe his weight-training sessions have affected his touch around the greens, but Duval plans to keep working out here. He ran six miles after a practice round earlier in the week and was headed to the gym last night.

"I certainly gain confidence from that," he said. "I think that's nothing but beneficial to me. And I believe that come Sunday afternoon, the fact that I'm in good shape can pay off. I'll be more refreshed than other people and my strength will still be high, and that's a lot of focus of why I was doing that stuff."

As is his nature, the usually dour Duval wasn't too excited about leading the Masters after 36 holes.

"It's great that I played so well so far," he said. "I'm not really concerned with my position. I've had one goal for a while and that's to be leading when we're done on Sunday afternoon. It helps to have played so well so far, but that's not my goal."

The pressure is on Duval, just not the weight of the world rankings.

The Masters

The leader

David Duval 73-65-138

and selected followers

Phil Mickelson 71-68-139

Vijay Singh 72-67-139

Ernie Els 72-67-139

Tom Lehman 69-72-141

Steve Jones 71-70-141

Bernhard Langer 71-71-142

Sergio Garcia 70-72-142

Justin Leonard 72-71-143

Fred Funk 75-68-143

Jack Nicklaus 74-70-144

Dennis Paulson 68-76-144

Tiger Woods 75-72-147

Davis Love 75-72-147

Complete scores. 9c

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