The will to win hasn’t changed for David Duval, nor has his thirst to compete, despite being relegated to part-time status on the PGA Tour.
His latest stop is the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he shot an opening-round 4-under 68 Thursday at sunsplashed TPC Louisiana, giving him a good opportunity to make his fourth cut in eight events in this wrap-around season and add to his $40,479 in winnings.
First things first for Duval, the former No. 1 player in the world in 1999 and winner of the 2001 Open Championship. It’s one stroke at a time, beginning with his second round at 12:20 p.m. Friday off the first tee.
“Is it fair to to fully expect to come out here and win this golf tournament after a month off and five weeks off?’’ he said. “Maybe not. But I’m here to tell you stranger things have happened. I’m hitting the golf ball well right now.
“But this is my challenge. All I have is tomorrow now for me right now because I don’t have next week.’’
Duval, 42, recently has changed his approach and carries a limited set of clubs. Instead of the maximum number of 14, Duval now carries only nine in his bag: six wedges of varying degrees, a driver, putter and 4-wood, which he seldom plays.
“This gives me the challenge of having to hit golf shots,’’ said Duval, who is playing on a sponsor’s exemption. “I’ve been working on my golf swing for a long time, for over a year now, and I feel like I’ve got it fixed.’’
The proof is in the scorecard.
Lucky and good
For all intents and purposes, Doug LaBelle II should not be playing in this year’s Zurich Classic. The sixth alternate, LaBelle failed to make it in the Monday qualifier bell and was headed to this week’s stop on the Web.com Tour before Fred Funk had to withdraw because of a chronic knee problem.
LaBelle took advantage of the opportunity, shooting 68 Thursday, his lowest by a shot in 11 rounds on the PGA Tour this season.
“Just to be in the field, I feel pretty lucky,’’ LaBelle said. “Unfortunately, Fred’s knee wasn’t doing too good. So unfortunate for him but very lucky for me.’’
LaBelle has made one cut in three PGA Tour events in 2013-14, finishing T52 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, good for $15,474.
A walk to remember
A round that started so promising ended in soulful reflection for 26-year-old Neal Ajubita, a New Orleans native and Jesuit graduate who carded an opening-round 79 in his first PGA Tour event.
“I feel a little hurt right now with how I played,’’ said Ajubita, a fledgling member of TPC Louisiana who earned an automatic spot in the Zurich Classic with a win in the PGA Gulf States Section championship last fall. “I was so excited when I started out with a birdie on (hole No.) 1. I hit a few good shots, but my putter let me down.
“I got a lot of cheers from my family and friends and people that I know here at the course — more than I’ve heard out on the mini-tours, for sure. I’ve been in the moment all day, so I really haven’t had time to take it all in. But overall, it’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.’’
Where is Tianlang now?
A year ago, Chinese teenage sensation Guan Tianlang captured the imagination of the golf world after becoming the youngest player at age 14 to make the cut at the Masters. Two weeks later, he made the cut at the Zurich Classic and finished 71st at 8-under 292.
On Thursday, the talented youngster — who has 2.7 million followers on Sim weibo, China’s version of Twitter — fired an opening-round 71 at the China Open.
By the numbers
2 -- Players in the Zurich Classic field who share the PGA Tour record for the lowest score in one round of 59: Stuart Appleby (2001) and Duval (1999). Appleby shot 67 Thursday, Duval 68. They share the tour record with Al Geiberger (1977), Chip Beck (1991), Paul Goydos (2010) and Jim Furyk (2013).
Kevin Tway’s gallery Thursday included father Bob Tway, winner of the 1986 PGA Championship and current member of the Champions Tour. ... The start of Thursday’s opening round was delayed 20 minutes because of fog, sending golfers off the 1st and 10th tees at 7:20 a.m. ... MasterCard has a “Best Seats in the House” sweepstakes at the Zurich Classic this week. Cardholders who have grounds tickets can text BEST SEATS to 50101. Winners will be awarded two tickets to select hospitality tents, where they’ll be treated as guests and get to view the competition from the so-called best seats in the house while enjoying free food and beverages. The sweepstakes starts when the gates open each day, with five winners per day.