Duval's 63: Was it reality or a mirage?

It is hard to believe, but seven years have passed since that magical day in the desert when David Duval eagled the final hole of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic to not only shoot 59 but also win the tournament.

Duval was in the midst of an amazing run, one that saw him win four times before The Masters and assume the No. 1 ranking in the world in 1999.

At that point, he had 11 PGA Tour victories -- more than Tiger Woods -- and a long-lasting rivalry appeared imminent.

We all know it has not worked out that way.

Later that year, Woods added a second major championship, a total he has run to 10. Woods also finished that season with eight victories and was about to embark on a run never seen in golf. He now has 46.

Duval did add the British Open in 2001, then went into a tailspin caused mostly by injuries but partly by a lack of motivation. His career PGA Tour victory total stands at 13.

He made just one cut in 20 tournaments last year, only three in nine tries in 2004, only four out of 20 in 2003. It has been a long time since Duval, now 34, has played any good golf.

But he showed signs Sunday. Duval shot a 7-under-par 63 during the final round of the Sony Open. It was his best score in three years, and the timing could not have been better heading into this week's Hope.

"It was relatively similar to the way I felt at the Hope [in 1999]," Duval told reporters afterward in Hawaii. "I wanted to do it again after my front nine of 30, but unfortunately the opportunities after the turn were few and far between. But I felt very comfortable out there and I was playing well enough to do it."

The score helped Duval finish in a tie for 31st, his best since tying for 13th at the 2004 Deutsche Bank Championship. The 63 was his best since he shot 62 in the second round of the FBR Capital Open in 2003.

One round, one tournament, does not make a season. And this week's Hope should be a good indication of where Duval's game truly is.

Scoring conditions are typically ideal in the Palm Springs area. The courses are pristine; the wind is nearly nonexistent; and the courses get set up in a friendly manner because of the amateur format. Last year, Justin Leonard's winning total was 28 under over five rounds.

Yet Duval had a horrible tournament. He opened with an 82 in the first round and had an 85 in the third. A mile from making the cut for the final day, he came back in the fourth round to shoot 72. That might have been one of the scores of the year, considering what it followed and what had to be going through his mind.

So although Duval has great memories at the Hope, he also has some demons. This would be a fine place to eradicate them.

And, if Duval's intention is to prolong his golf career, it is important that he do so.

He is, in essence, playing for his golf life this year. When Duval won the British Open, he also claimed a five-year PGA Tour exemption. At the time, who'd have ever thought he'd need it? But Duval has not come close to finishing among the top 125 money earners in any of the past three years.

Now, he needs to.

A tie for 31st was a good start. But this week should offer a few more clues as to where Duval is headed in 2006 and beyond.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.