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Back on scene, Duval tests game, emotions

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - He is playing this week in the 104th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, not on a whim or a prayer, but on the simple logic that he needs to be here. After all, David Duval is a professional golfer.

The last player to be ranked first in the world other than Tiger Woods, Duval has all but disappeared in the three years since winning his first major title, the 2001 British Open.

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The injuries that plagued him before and after his victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes led to swing changes that caused his ranking and results to plummet. A breakup with his longtime girlfriend eventually led Duval to stop playing.

His return to competitive golf after an eight-month layoff may or may not be permanent.

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"It had more to do with the desire to play in our national championship," Duval, 32, said yesterday at a packed news conference. "I couldn't think of a more fitting place to play, actually."

Newly married and relatively healthy, his decision to play here has been an emotional one for a player who was long known for keeping his private feelings deep under the surface.

"I was in tears when I called home Saturday night when I was out golfing and said that I was going to play in New York, and I've been in and out of tears ever since," said Duval, who was exempt from qualifying because of his British Open win. "My expectations here are to have fun ... and that's about it."

When he won his first major after several near-misses, particularly in the Masters, many figured Duval's career would take off and he'd have a legitimate chance to become Woods' rival again.

Instead, his career fell apart. After finishing tied for 10th in the 2001 PGA, he missed the cut in five of the next seven majors he played and withdrew from last year's PGA. Last year, he finished 211th on the PGA Tour money list, making the cut in only four of 20 events.

Asked yesterday to assess what happened to him since Royal Lytham, Duval gave one of his typically rambling and introspective answers.

"My mistake was I had what I thought was a pretty broad goal, but it turned out to be pretty narrow, and that was simply to see how good I could become in this game," said Duval.

"Through winning a lot of tournaments, through going to No. 1, through winning the Open, I figured it out. A week removed from the Open championship is when I went through my existential moment of kind of, 'Is this it?' "

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Duval admitted to more than just butterflies rumbling inside.

Given the current climate, it's more like cicadas for a man whose first tee shot in a practice round yesterday shook up a young spectator when it hit him in the head.

"I think the biggest goal is to be nervous on Sunday because, if you're not nervous on Sunday, it means you're not anywhere near the top," said Duval. "I sit here very nervous about this week; scared in a sense, too. I haven't done it in some time."


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