LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - There was a time, a short but sparkling time, when David Duval was -- in his dark shades and surgical shot-making -- golf's natural-born killer.
He was the world No. 1, even as the young Tiger Woods was building his empire, and he won the British Open the previous time it was played at Royal Lytham 11 years ago with a panache that went straight into the legends of a great course. There was a time, a short but sparkling time, when David Duval was -- in his dark shades and surgical shot-making -- golf's natural-born killer. He was the world No. 1, even as the young Tiger Woods was building his empire, and he won the British Open the previous time it was played at Royal Lytham 11 years ago with a panache that went straight into the legends of a great course.
This was the point of redemption when his game, and for some time his life, fell apart. He could always tell himself that before the darkness there was that most vital shaft of light, the illumination which comes when you win a major tournament.
On Wednesday the 40-year-old Duval went back to that old glory, talked about how it was to own the Claret Jug for a year -- and at the same time he warned Luke Donald, Britain's world-ranked No. 1, that it may be a lot later than he thinks.
Donald, 34, bridles under the suspicion that, like his compatriot Lee Westwood, he may do everything in golf except win a major, but he is unlikely to be soothed by Duval's ice-cold analysis of his situation.
Donald, says Duval, is putting a huge weight on his own shoulders with each missed major target.
"The sooner you can do it the better," the American said on the eve of the 141st British Open. "I think the longer it drags on the harder it gets, the more you get it in your own head and the more you press and the more you think about it.
"I don't think there is any way you could argue other than that, I really don't, not in making an honest argument.
"You can talk all you want but the longer it goes on, the harder it gets and the more self-doubt there is, whether you admit it or not."
Donald, who last year performed the extraordinary double of finishing top money-maker on the PGA Tour and the European Tour, spoke this week of the inspiration of the late Seve Ballesteros, a double-winner here whose sublime ability to hit recovery shots from the most unlikely places earned the sneering accolade of "car park champion" from U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin.
Donald declared, "Seve was known as someone who would hit wild off the tee and use his short game to get out of trouble. No matter where he was, he felt like he could hole a shot. I've got to go into this tournament with that kind of fun attitude, that no matter how I'm hitting it there is always a way to make a score.
"I think that should give me some heart. I have not always been known as the guy who hits it consistently from tee to green but I have a great short game. I have great skills to get the ball in the hole no matter how I'm playing." The worry is not only that Donald, despite the sustained heat of the form that has taken him to the top of the rankings for the best part of a year, has failed to win a major. He has scarcely made a mark on one.
Duval was drawn into the debate when he was asked to predict the next world No. 1. He nominated 26-year-old Webb Simpson, who made his major breakthrough by winning the U.S. Open last month in his fourth year on the big tour.
"I named him," Duval said, "because of the confidence he has right now. I'm not saying he's necessarily going to win five major championships and be world No. 1 for the next three years. I say him because of the confidence which comes with what he has just accomplished.
"There's a point at which you go up and down the driving range knowing that you are not going to see a whole range of difference between how players play, how they hit the golf ball. You're going to see different distances the ball gets hit, but it is the player with the extra confidence who is the one with the advantage.
"I'm not talking about the mechanics of golf. I don't think he's better than some other players but he has won -- and so, of course, he knows what it is all about."
No one knew it much better than Duval when, in a brilliant staccato burst he won 13 PGA Tour titles, including the British Open, and the best part of $20 million. He was the gunfighter who came into the saloon and shot the lights out for the sheer hell of it.
Duval had that extra confidence in those days until injuries sapped it out of him.
Most important, though, is to live in the moment and it warms him to remember how well he played here in 2001. He was 29 years old at the time, five years younger than Luke Donald is today, and so it is hard not to believe that he is eminently qualified to point at the clock.
James Lawton writes for The Independent in the UK