SONY OPEN IN HAWAII
Former great's game giving him great pain
You had a feeling it might not be David Duval's day when the tee box announcer identified him as David Toms.
Duval managed a rueful smile as he prepared to hit his first drive at the Waialae Country Club in 11 years, but it quickly disappeared as his opening shot hooked into the screen guarding the practice range along the left side of the No. 1 fairway.
The errant drive eventually led to a double bogey as Duval opened the 2006 PGA Tour season with a 5-over 75, trailing first-round leader Rory Sabbatini by 10 shots. Not that this week's Sony Open in Hawaii is about winning for Duval; more about survival, thanks to an old back injury that stepped up and made its presence felt on Monday.
Wrapped tightly in a brace underneath his blue Nike shirt and black pants, Duval did his best to manage the pain throughout the morning and early afternoon, conceding it affected his play as he finished with three birdies, six bogeys and the one double to open his round.
The lone bright spot was a chip-in birdie from just off the green at the long par-4 13th. At that point, the hole had surrendered only three birdies for the day.
"It used to be a par-5 the last time I was here, I think," Duval said. "But it was a good feeling to see it go in."
Duval will need a solid number in the red today to make the cut, but even if he did, his back might not let him play through the weekend. He had thought about going home earlier in the week, knowing full well what awaited him on the course, but opted to stay.
"I flew too far not to play," Duval said after the round, then smiled. "It was worse early and not as bad the last 10, 12 holes. As much as anything, it was about finding a setup position that didn't aggravate it.
"Your reaction is to straighten up and try to prevent from feeling pain. Nobody likes that I guess. It took some fiddling around out there for a few holes. Trying to determine a static place that was neutral and wasn't too painful. Even though the last several holes I hit it like I expect and have been over the last year, it was still a little painful."
There are probably many reasons why Duval is no longer the No. 1 player in the world, but injuries played an integral part in his dropping to No. 491 worldwide. Not that he likes to talk about it, he doesn't, because it sounds like an excuse rather than a reason.
But for five years, Duval has had to live with an injury that can't be healed. Some days are good, some days are bad, but feeling good for life isn't on any scorecard for the 34-year-old graduate of Georgia Tech.
"David looked like he struggled at first," playing partner David Toms said. "He hit a lot of great shots on the back nine, he started rotating through the shot like he always used to. I was impressed and his short game was still solid."
Last November, Duval showed a bit of his old self with a seventh-place finish at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan, an event current world No. 1 Tiger Woods won. Duval hasn't managed a first-place finish since he captured the British Open in 2001. He has 13 victories on tour, including the Mercedes Championships in 1999, but lately, things haven't gone as planned.
In 2005, he managed only one cut in 20 events, winning $7,630 with a tie for 60th at the Valero Texas Open. In 2004, he had a seven-month layoff, playing in only nine events, surviving the cut in three. The long, spiral downward is well-documented in golf circles. This is the last year his tour exemption from winning the British Open applies.
He had planned to go from here and play most of the West Coast Swing, but now that the back injury has flared up, it's hard to say what Duval will be able to accomplish over the first two months. For years, he skipped the Sony, even though he played a few times at the Mercedes. It's something he wished he hadn't done.
"When I got here last Friday, I couldn't figure out why I hadn't been here," Duval said. "I look like a real idiot now not being here in 11 years. I'm definitely going to be back. I came out to hit a few balls on Monday to play in the pro-am and my back was just killing me. I played, but I don't know that I should have.
"When you commit to play on a Monday, I think you should do it if you can. There's nothing I can do. Frankly, I'm tired of talking about. I've been talking about it for five years. I didn't expect this to happen by any stretch of the imagination. It's really saddening a little bit."