The Loop

Verdi: Confident Duval Opens With a 73

SOUTHPORT, England -- Few golfers appeared to be having any fun during the first round of the British Open on Thursday, but David Duval was not among them. Even a bogey at the 18th after a drive into a pot bunker couldn't spoil the mood of Duval, who recorded an impressive 73 in dreadful conditions.

Duval, once the world's No. 1 player and the 2001 Open champion, has made only one cut in 12 PGA Tour events this season. However, he remains expressive and optimistic, saying to reporters that he stood before them "with a lot more confidence" than anyone should expect after his prolonged sentence in golf's black hole.

"I probably played a shot or two better than my score, but I controlled the ball and hit it where I was looking," said Duval, who laughed and yakked throughout the storm with playing partners David Frost and Simon Khan. Duval was followed by sons Deano, 18, and Nick, 15, who hopped the charter with him from last week's John Deere Classic. Also in the gallery was Puggy Blackmon, Duval's coach at Georgia Tech, who marveled at his former pupil's use of the stinger in stiff winds and slanting rains.

Duval rightly reasoned that keeping the ball in the air was no way to post a decent score Thursday. Thus, he drilled a low four-iron into the 162-yard No. 12, where he birdied. Khan struck the same club, turned it over, and the ball flew well left of the green and long. That's how it went Thursday, but Duval, who is fighting the fight to regain his form, felt rewarded to a point. He's had too many days when he leaves the course having posted the highest score he thought possible.

Duval experienced varying weather during this round.  The front nine was brutal, but by the 14th hole, he removed his jacket. The sunglasses stayed on, though, because he says he would rather his shades absorb the rain drops than his eyes. Duval's vision of the big picture, though, is hampered by lack of opportunities to perform. To play well again, he must play often.

"I'd like to play more than once in the next eight weeks," he said, "but all I've got on my schedule is Greensboro (Wyndham Championship in mid-August.) I could play Reno (two weeks prior) but that's my daughter's (Sienna) first birthday."

Duval, the family man, would not miss that. He wants to get back into the mix among the world's elite golfers, but not at any cost.

--Bob Verdi