By CHRIS TALBOTT
MADISON, Miss. – David Duval spent much of the time he set aside for putting practice Wednesday shaking hands and talking about his new baby.
The Viking Classic will be his first PGA tournament since February after a seven-month break to be with his wife during a difficult pregnancy. A smiling, joking Duval said he isn’t sure what to expect after playing once a week or less of “cart golf” during his layoff.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a chance to win the golf tournament and I wouldn’t be surprised if I struggle a little,” Duval said after a few dozen swings on the practice tee at Annandale Golf Club. “I’ve played real well at home when I’ve played, but I haven’t quite put in the time that’s necessary probably.”
When he did play the focus was on playing fast, cramming a round into two hours or less so he could get back to his home outside Denver to be with his wife, Susie. New daughter Sienna was born healthy last month and Duval said his wife is doing well.
Duval said the tournament, formerly called the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, likely will be his only appearance on the PGA Tour the rest of the season. He chose to return to Mississippi because of the reception he’s received in his three previous appearances.
“I came here a few years ago and it’s nice as a player who’s played for a long time to hear some thank yous for coming,” he said. “It made me want to try and fit it in whenever I could.”
He has 13 career victories and once was the world’s No. 1 player, but hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a tournament since 2002 and has just four top-25 finishes in the last five years.
Duval, who has won more than $16.7 million since turning professional in 1993 out of Georgia Tech, used a onetime exemption for being in the top 25 on the career money list to keep his Tour card this year.
He was off to a promising start this season in five tournaments before leaving the Tour at a time when he was “on the cusp of playing really well.” He made three of five cuts in January and February with his best performance at the AT&T Pebble Beach where he was tied for 36th.
“I feel like I had everything going the way I wanted it to when the year started, but circumstances dictated that I needed to go home for a while,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of getting ready for next year.”