As the weekend looms at Royal Birkdale, attention in the media tent is turning towards the hopeful charges that currently lead the pack. Can Harrington make his eagle/birdie finish count to make it back-to-back Open wins? What about Jim Furyk? A major winner in 2003 at the US Open and looking his usual self with a gritty 71 today. Or can current leader Greg Norman really pull what will be the biggest fairytale in golf out of the bag to claim a hat-trick of Open crowns?
In the absence of Woods, this championship was always going to feature plenty of sideshows as the main event failed to make an appearance. One of those comes with the performance of a man who back in 1999 knocked the then 23-year-old Tiger off his perch as world number one, challenging him on all fronts on the PGA Tour before winning his one-and-only Major in 2001 – the Open Championship at Royal Lytham.
For many golfing romantics, seeing David Duval’s name on the leaderboard is even more satisfying than seeing Norman’s. Duval has endured a horrendous run since his glory days during the turn of the Millennium, plummeting to new depths in the world rankings as the players he once picked off with ease kept everything in check. As I write this he has just holed another birdie putt to take him to one-under-par – just a shot off the lead. It is a mark of class that he sits where he does. I hate the phrase “Form is temporary, class is permanent” but in Duval’s case I’m willing to give it a try.
I didn’t always feel this way about him though. I cringed at his celebrations after he beat Jesper Parnevik 5&4 in the 1999 Ryder Cup Singles; his fist punching heroics just a taste of what would soon follow. I also found some of his early-day press conferences a little surly.
But the turning point came during his acceptance speech after the Open in 2001. He thanked the British public from the bottom of his heart, speaking with genuine affection towards the galleries that had followed him for four days. Finally a major winner, the pressure was off and the public took to him. There are other stories about his decent nature, most notably partying with the victorious 2002 European Ryder Cup team.
The slump in form that followed hurt him badly, as you would expect. And although it is hard to see Duval carrying his current form all the way through to the homestretch, he will certainly take heart from the fact that golf has not forgotten about him.