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David Duval, with caddie Jeff Weber, is convinced that his game is headed in the right direction. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Birkdale success is culmination of all Duval's hard work

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For a resurgent David Duval, his play this week is a confirmation that all the little things he's been seeing in recent years are coming together like he always believed they would.

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

SOUTHPORT, England - It's never been about just getting back.

Or making cuts. Or playing just good enough to hang on. Or settling.

That's not David Duval. Never has been. Never will be.

That he doesn't live and die with every round the way he did back when he was the best in the world is a good thing. That he's a husband and father of two now is even better. That he's found he's a pretty good country club golfer with a penchant for 2 1/2-hour rounds and electric carts gives him perspective.

That he hates to be away from home for long makes him just like you and me.

That he's contending for the 137th Open Championship? It's a testament to his drive, to his faith in himself, to a belief that when he did emerge from a long series of winter's naps that he would come back as strong, if not stronger than ever.

"I know what greatness is about, and I know what it takes to have greatness," he said as the biting wind was returning to Birkdale late Friday afternoon. "I won't settle for mediocrity.

"So I've been working towards greatness, not just getting back to making cuts and managing to play halfway decent. I've been trying to take the long route and the hard route and try to get back to greatness."

The past two days represent so much more than rounds of 73 and 69. More than the fact that this is only the second cut he's made this year and the first time since 2002 he's played a weekend at an Open. More than his best round at an Open, period, since he won the 2001 Claret Jug at Lytham.

More than just another amazing story in a week filled with comebacks and breakthroughs and surprises.

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For Duval, this represents the next step in that long road. It's a confirmation that all those little things he's been seeing over the last few years are coming together; that he has been playing better than it looks.

He can appreciate a good story. Whether it's Greg Norman playing out of his mind at 53 or his own comeback tale. He just refuses to be on the outside looking in.

"You know, I know it's for you guys writing, it's a funny story, it's a little different," Duval said. "But I've said it when I've been asked over the course of, frankly, this year, that I'm playing a lot better than my results have shown. I think if you look back to it, I've been saying that and trumpeting that, it's just frankly I've needed to gain some confidence and get a few good things to happen.

"It's amazing what a good break and a good bounce can do for you. I was very pleased frankly with how I played last week in Moline (at the John Deere Classic)," he aded. "You know, what cost me making the cut and being 6, 7, 8 under par were a couple putts and two drives late in the round that I hit a total of six yards off line. I hit them both where I wanted to hit them basically, and it cost me, though."

So he came to Birkdale and went to work.

He's always embraced this championship - one set up so well that all it takes is that one elusive element, the weather, to turn a stern test into a brutal one. And when the wind whipped up Wednesday afternoon? Most players packed it in. Not Duval.

"I knew very well that we could be facing those kinds of conditions, so I really wanted to play and hit good shots and see where the ball would go and what it would do," he said.

"I wake up yesterday and see what's going on, and you can either embrace it or shoot a high number and go home. I did the best I could to enjoy those conditions and go from there."

Duval swears nothing has clicked this week. Not a shot. Not a hole. Just the culmination of the hard work he's put in this last year and a half. He's put his swing back together, gotten his head back on straight and paid attention to how he's hitting it, not to his scores.

Now, he's putting the last piece in place: confidence. And the crowds are embracing him, seeing flashes of the man who wants to reclaim his spot as one of the best in the world.

"Open champions are embraced forever," he said. "The fact that I have struggled a lot since then and slowly getting things back to where I'd like for them to be, I think they appreciate that hard work. You're talking about golfers and true golf fans. They play the game and they understand it. They know the work it takes, and I've had to work for quite some time."

Mickelson understands. He partnered with Duval at both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and remembers the amazing golf he played. The putts, the shots.

"For him to be resurging right now is exciting because he might make this Ryder Cup team," Mickelson said. "If he has a good finish on this weekend, finishes top 2 or 3, he's right in there for the Ryder Cup. I think that would be a neat story."

The tough times, the changes and the family have all helped Duval mature from a one-dimensional world-class golfer to a man whose priorities are tucked deep in his heart.

"I live for my family," he said. "I mean, you know, ironically, standing on this side of the mic(rophone) you get asked these things, and I'm no different than anybody - any of you guys. You live for your family. For some reason it's important to write about it, I guess.

"It's a story for some reason, which it seems like that should be kind of a given."

As for the rest of the story, he says there's no looking back. He doesn't want his old swing or for people to compare his game with 1999 or 2000. He wants to look ahead.

"I'm looking to the future and what I expect going forward," he said. "You know, I there's not a whole lot about what went on 10 years ago for me or eight years ago or six years ago that I can do about it, so I am looking towards playing great golf from here until early, mid 40s. That's what I'm striving for. I'm not at the point of 50 whatever and looking back."

Instead, he's looking to Saturday's third round. To the challenges of Birkdale and the winds that promise to gust to 45 mph and, perhaps, change the face of this championship.

Duval laughs that the field could be playing six par 5s instead of just two. That nothing will be conventional. That sometimes it might come down to simply keeping it in play.

He smiled and reminded us that everything he's been through is, well, all good. All pointing in the right direction -- not toward mediocrity, but rather greatness.

"You know, that story is yet to be told as to whether I can get back to that point or not,"
he said, "but that's what I strive for."

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