AUGUSTA, Ga. - The ghosts that have followed David Duval here the past three years at the Masters might be lurking somewhere behind the azaleas or hiding amid the pines. Whether they come out this weekend depends greatly on whether Duval stays in the hunt.
Despite a recent wrist injury to compound problems both on and off the course earlier in the year, Duval showed no signs yesterday of doing anything different this year at Augusta National. A 6-under-par 66 - Duval's best round ever at a Masters - was punctuated with a birdie on the final hole.
At 7-under 137, he is three shots behind surprise leader Chris DiMarco and one behind his close friend and rival, Tiger Woods. It means that Duval will likely get another chance to bury the demons that have gotten the best of him in the final round during his last three visits here.
He said that last year's defeat, when he made a couple of bogeys on the back nine and wound up losing by four shots to Vijay Singh, didn't stay with him long. Not because it didn't hurt, but because he had become accustomed to the feeling.
"I really didn't think about it, probably not as long as '98," said Duval, speaking of when he fell apart down the stretch and finished a shot behind Mark O'Meara. "I think after you experience it once and you kind of know again what it feels like, you kind of move on and think about how you can make yourself have a better chance the following year."
What Duval has done so far has been unexpected, considering his spotty play in February when he missed the cut at both the Phoenix Open and the AT&T; Pebble Beach before a tie for 51st at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. It didn't get better when Duval finished in a tie for 63rd at Doral.
It was then that he went home to Jacksonville to allow his wrist, not to mention his psyche, to heal. Given the legal troubles that arose when Duval left Titleist for Nike, it has made for Duval's worst year on the PGA Tour since turning pro in 1995.
Asked when the last time he was so excited about playing a round as the one he'll play today, Duval said: "Probably not this year. To be honest with you, as everyone knows, there has been a lot of stuff going on. But that's kind of behind me and some of it, I have no control over when it is going to end."
Duval got in contention yesterday with four birdies on the front, including three straight starting at the par-5 seventh hole. He made a 10-footer for birdie on the par-3 12th, reached the par-5 13th in two (after his approach into Rae's Creek last year) and made birdie.
After missing a 5-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th and a 10-footer for par on the par-3 16th, Duval closed out the round with a birdie on the par-4 18th even though his drive found a fairway bunker. It left Duval with positive thoughts last night.
"You have to have good breaks to win the golf tournament," said Duval, mindful of a couple of fortunate bounces Singh received last year. "But my intent coming in here is not to need those breaks by hitting the ball well and putting well and playing smart, in essence to eliminate every mistake so I don't need a break. But if I need one, I'd sure like to get one."
Norman misses cut
Another player whose Masters career was haunted by memories of blown leads and victories will not have to worry about doing anything close to that this year.
Greg Norman, who nearly erased the disaster of his defeat to Nick Faldo in 1996 by coming close two years ago, followed an opening-round 71 with an 82 yesterday. It was the worst score he's shot in 64 rounds here. Norman's previous worst round at the Masters was a first-round 80 last year.
"Everything was wrong," said Norman, 46, whose round was the highest of the day this year, tied by 64-year-old Tommy Aaron. "You've got to take it and move on. I didn't sense that this was coming."
In contrast, Arnold Palmer's 76 was his best score here in five years.
Back to day job
Greg Puga will now go back to his day job as a caddie at Bel Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Last year's Mid-Amateur champion missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 80.
"I'm a little disappointed, but I can't be too disappointed - this is the Masters," said Puga, 29. "I'm discouraged with how I hit the ball."
Asked about the experience of playing in the Masters, Puga said, "It was awesome."
Today's third round
10:20 a.m.: Bob May
10:30 a.m.: Jonathan Kaye, Franklin Langham
10:40 a.m.: Loren Roberts, Robert Allenby
10:50 a.m.: Fred Couples, Shingo Katayama
11:10 a.m.: Dudley Hart, Scott Hoch
11:20 a.m.: Steve Lowery, Steve Jones
11:30 a.m.: Tom Lehman, Justin Leonard
11:40 a.m.: Mark O'Meara, Hal Sutton
11:50 a.m.: Chris Perry, Mike Weir
12:00 p.m.: Rocco Mediate, Jeff Maggert
12:10 p.m.: Tom Scherrer, Jesper Parnevik
12:20 p.m.: Bernhard Langer, Carlos Franco
12:30 p.m.: John Huston, Duffy Waldorf
12:40 p.m.: Mark Brooks, Stuart Appleby
12:50 p.m.: Brad Faxon, Paul Azinger
1:00 p.m.: Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk
1:10 p.m.: Ernie Els, Miguel A. Jimenez
1:20 p.m.: Mark Calcavecchia, Darren Clarke
1:30 p.m.: Kirk Triplett, Jose Maria Olazabal
1:40 p.m.: Toshi Izawa, David Duval
1:50 p.m.: Lee Janzen, Angel Cabrera