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David Duval confident in Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs path

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CARY, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 15: David Duval of the United States hits a tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club on October 15, 2023 in Cary, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

CARY, NORTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 15: David Duval of the United States hits a tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the SAS Championship at Prestonwood Country Club on October 15, 2023 in Cary, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

    Written by Bob McClellan

    There was a time when David Duval was as good as any golfer on the planet not named Tiger Woods.

    Even in Tiger’s heyday, Duval often stood toe-to-toe with him. The only player to win more tournaments from 1997-2001 than Duval’s 13 was Woods. Duval was the top-ranked player in the world for 15 consecutive weeks beginning in March 1998.

    But after arguably his greatest triumph, a three-shot romp at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham in 2001, Duval’s game mysteriously disappeared. So began an agonizing tumble, to 80th on the money list in 2002 to 211th on the money list in 2003. He took an extended break from the game and never won on the PGA TOUR again.

    There were injuries and personal issues, and a surprising turn as a commentator for a man who had been reticent to engage with the media as a player. But he was excellent behind the mic -- honest, straightforward, insightful.

    No one save Duval and those closest to him seemed to know what he’d do when he turned 50 on Nov. 9, 2021, and was eligible to play on PGA TOUR Champions. Would it interest him? And if so, what was the state of his game? He hadn’t played in more than one PGA TOUR event in a season since playing in six events in 2019, missing five cuts and withdrawing once.

    But if there’s anything we know about professional golfers, it’s that they feel a need to compete. They want to be in the thick of it again, feet to the fire, butterflies the size of pterodactyls in their stomachs.

    And so it is that Duval has, against seemingly fairly tall odds, tried to make a go of it on PGA TOUR Champions. He played in 21 events in his rookie season in 2022 and didn’t post a single top 25, missing out on the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs, which has room for only the top 72 on the money list for the first event then whittles from there.

    Duval was a bit better in 2023, but he still looked like he was going to miss the Playoffs until a funny thing happened at last week’s SAS Championship in Cary, North Carolina. David Duval at 51, found a little of David Duval at 26. He shot three consecutive under-par rounds, got to 8 under and posted the best finish of his PGA TOUR Champions career, a tie for 11th. Best of all, it took him from 78th on the money list to 71st and put him into the field for this week’s Dominion Energy Charity Classic just outside Richmond, Virginia.

    David Duval goes flag hunting to yield birdie at SAS Champ

    “My golf itself, the ball-hitting, putting, everything's been good and getting better and better,” said Duval, who had his only other top 25 this year -- a tie for 18th -- at the Sanford International on Sept. 17. “As golfers, we all know and everybody who plays it, you usually walk off the course shooting the highest score you can. Rarely is it ‘I got everything out of it.’ But those high scores, when I feel like I shot three or four shots worse than I should have, that has been continuing to trend down. Playing in Jacksonville at home was disappointing how it went (a T47 at the Constellation FURYK & FRIENDS on a course Duval grew up playing), I felt like I played a lot better than my results.

    “But going to Cary, I knew I had to have the best week I've had since I've been out here. I didn't know exactly what that meant. I put myself in position after the first couple days or first couple of rounds I guess you would call it. We played 30 holes Sunday, extremely difficult conditions for quite some time and that's obviously for everybody. I got off to a bit of a rough start, made the turn, hit a really beautiful shot on the par-3 11th to about 8 feet and missed it. It's like, OK, you've got seven holes left and if you don't make four birdies, you get to go home. I ended up making three and it turned out to be just enough.”

    Duval would have to pull off more miracles to extend his stay in the Playoffs. Only the top 54 advance to the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. But on Wednesday he sounded like a player trying to find his way toward peace with the game.

    “Well, I looked at it and was like, you know, especially last week in Cary, you know what, you need to have the best attitude you’ve had on a golf course in years and just let everything roll off your back,” Duval said. “You're going to hit good shots, you're going to hit bad shots, the ball's going to bounce funny, but getting worked up after a shot is not going to do me any good for the week.

    “So that's kind of how I approached it. I took every shot as it came and went and just tried to improve my position after that shot and just kept moving forward on the golf course. Kind of a lesson to learn that I've been pushing it too hard at times, trying too hard to get the results as opposed to just getting out of my own way and letting it happen.”

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