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Slump mystifies Duval

David Duval handed back the Claret Jug, no dents or scratches reported. The glow certainly had faded, however.

His reign as British Open champion was complete, a year having gone by since his major-championship breakthrough at Royal Lytham, the victory that was to propel him to greatness.

Instead, Duval left Muirfield on Sunday searching for the magic that came with his win in 2001. All the long-awaited major did was raise expectations; so far, Duval has fallen woefully short of meeting them.

Before his tie for 22nd at the Open, he had missed three straight cuts for the first time. He has missed six overall in 2002 and has just one top-10 finish. This from a player who only three years ago was ranked No. 1 in the world _ the only player in the past four years besides Tiger Woods to occupy the top spot.

"I lost a little bit of focus," Duval said. "I think I got a little too absorbed in how I swing the golf club. I seem to forget that last year I won not hitting the ball as well as I'm capable of.

"I think I got sidetracked. You're not as enthused about things at times and are thinking about other stuff and it's not a big deal. It's just the ups and downs."

Duval did not point to any one thing, and did not get specific. But he did hint that perhaps the feeling of getting to the top was pretty good, and he wanted to enjoy it.

And the breakup with his fiancee in January could not have helped. Duval had been with Julie McArthur for eight years.

In February, Duval was on the fringe of contention heading into the final round of the Nissan Open. But a sudden virus forced him to withdraw after just three holes, and he ended up losing 12 pounds.

Then Duval learned that lingering soreness in his right shoulder was the result of tendinitis, probably from an old snowboarding accident. That came on top of back and wrist injuries that hampered him the previous two years.

Duval, who has not finished worse than eighth on the PGA Tour money list in the past five years, is 81st with $531,958. He has slipped to ninth in the World Ranking. And he is 147th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy.

"It's been one of those years where life's events have been bigger than golf," he said. "I've gone through a lot, and golf just hasn't been the most important thing."

Duval seemingly was back on track when he tied for fourth at the Memorial in late May. But his swing remains a work in progress. Compensations due to injuries threw him off. The mental distractions also were a factor. Duval admits that in an effort to improve, he chose the wrong path. But he believes he is now headed in the right direction.

"It's been a bit of a slow realization," said Duval, who had a difficult time reconciling an 11-over-par effort at the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut, followed by another missed cut at Hartford. "I'm thinking, "How am I 4 over par when the way I hit it, I should have been 6 or 7 under?" he said.

"You just say, well my strategy has been a little bit different. My patience has been a little bit different. It's just a matter of correcting those things. I've played pretty well at times. I've just had some bad holes here and there, and those are things I haven't done in the past. I'm hitting solid shots. I'm hitting the hole with the putter. All the ingredients are right there. They just haven't fallen together."

Duval found some comfort at the British Open, where he never has missed a cut and has three top-20 finishes in addition to his victory. His game showed flashes of the old Duval, but he was frustrated by his inability to score. Duval gave himself plenty of chances. And when the final round began, he was just five strokes behind eventual champion Ernie Els.

But Duval made no Sunday charge, managing a final-round 70.

"I will keep working on things," said Duval, who at one point had won 11 of 34 tournaments during an 18-month stretch. He has 13 PGA Tour victories overall. "I've just not been at the top of my golf game. But that's okay. I'm only 30 years old, and if I can keep it to this one stretch, things should be okay. I've got a long career ahead still, a lot of golf left.

"We all have streaks that aren't so good. Sure, I'd like to play better than I'm playing. I imagine some of it is just the confidence, where all you see are great things and all you do are great things, and they far outweigh the mistakes you make. That's how I was for quite some time."

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