GULLANE, Scotland – Everywhere he went, the whispers were the same:
Is that David Duval?
Yes, it was David Duval making his way around Muirfield on Wednesday in final preparation for the British Open, and while most golf fans know who David Duval is, they can't believe he's here. It's been 12 years since his last Tour win, which also marked the climax of his career. Since winning the 2001 British Open, Duval has gone from Tiger Woods' No. 1 rival to a guy just trying to hang on.
He hasn't made a cut in six events in 2013, earned $32,936 in prize money last year and is currently ranked 1,514th in the world – or 1,513 spots lower than he was in 1999.
And yet raising the Claret Jug on Sunday, he said, isn't out of the question.
"As we sit here and talk Wednesday afternoon, I feel like if I can do what I've been doing in practice and have been working on, I will play well," Duval told Yahoo! Sports. "Does that translate to winning? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if I had an opportunity to."
He'd be the only one, though it's not hard to understand why the confidence still exists.
Before Tiger Woods ran off a stretch of 264 straight weeks atop the world rankings, he and Duval were in a battle for the top spot. Between 1997 and 2001, Duval won 13 times, finished second twice at the Masters and once at the U.S. Open.
In those years when Woods was solidifying himself as the greatest player of this generation, his main challenger was David Duval. That memory doesn't go away, no matter how many years stack up between your last win and today.
This is why, naïvely or not, Duval believes he still has the skill set to win. It's just a matter of rediscovering it. Where he lost it has been the subject of countless dissections, but he explains it rather simply: injuries led to compensations in his swing, which wrecked his game and, by extension, his confidence.
He's spent the past decade or so trying to relocate the sweet stroke that made him Nike's $7 million man in 2000. Finally, he says, he's found it.
"I feel like all the work I've been in with the – changes is not the right word – the restoration of my golf swing, trying to put it back to what it was, I'm really close to having done that," he said. "Am I going to play great this week? I don't know, but I think I'm going to play great here real soon."
And now the waiting game commences, again. This isn't the first time since his career went south that Duval has expressed an assurance in his game. "I'm more confident in my golf swing than I've ever been," he told Golf Digest.
That was 2006.
He's shown flashes since, finishing second at the AT&T at Pebble Beach in 2010, but mostly it's been a lot of missed cuts. With each one, that 2001 win at Royal Lytham & St Annes gets further and further in the rearview mirror, and the foundation from which he maintains today's confidence – his past success – gets shakier and shakier.
One begets the other, but for how much longer?
"That's the chicken and the egg: success or confidence. You need both," he said. "You need to gain both, and continue to gain both, and I've been gaining that on the golf course and in my practice sessions. Who knows?"
That's just it with David Duval, and golf really: Who knows? Odds are against him being a contender into the weekend at Muirfield. But maybe he can restore the game he once had, if only for a few days.
If the game's got one thing left for him, it's hope.
Related coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Tiger Woods' major obstacle: He's good, but no longer dominant
• Phil Mickelson could finally have right recipe for British Open win
• At Muirfield, golf is played differently
• The Open Championship has already given us some incredible images early in the week