DULUTH, Ga. - Their friendship was forged a couple of years ago, shortly after Tiger Woods recaptured the ranking as the world's best player from David Duval. They have spent time fishing together and playing golf together before last year's British Open at St. Andrews.
They even flew home together after playing against each other in the final round with Woods celebrating his victory there while consoling Duval on his back-nine collapse at the Old Course. Back then, it seemed as if the camaraderie between them had overshadowed their competition.
It changed last month when Duval won his first major championship in the British Open at Royal Lytham.
It could be altered over the next four days in the 83rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Not only will Woods and Duval be pursuing the same prize - the Wanamaker Trophy and a first-place check for $936,000 - they also will be doing so together for at least the first two rounds.
Woods, whose victory at this year's Masters was his fourth straight major championship and sixth overall, will be playing in the same featured threesome as Duval and reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa when the final major of the 2001 season begins this morning.
"To play with David and Retief, it's going to be a lot of fun," said Woods, who is looking to become the first player to win three straight PGA Championships since Walter Hagen won four straight in the 1920s. "It is obviously going to be an intense environment being a major championship, but at least we will have some good company."
It is pretty select company. Despite his recent slump that has seen him finish out of the top 10 in three straight tournaments - including a tie for 25th at the British Open - Woods has a stranglehold on the world's No. 1 ranking.
Duval, whose victory at The Players Championship in 1999 helped end Woods' 41-week reign at the top, fell as far as eighth earlier this year but has pushed his way back to third behind Woods and Phil Mickelson. With victories at Southern Hills and at the Scottish Open, Goosen is up to 17th.
"The rival thing is something that has been put on us," said Duval, who at 29 is four years older than Woods. "They want Tiger to have a rival. I just want to play great. I just am working hard to play great golf and be a good person and to play well out here. ... I view him as somebody I have to beat."
His three-stroke victory in England has taken a load of pressure off Duval, whose inability to play well down the stretch at several majors, particularly the Masters, was widely documented. It has, in essence, helped Duval take those wraparound shades off his blank face and bring out the personality behind them.
Asked this week if he feels more relaxed, Duval said: "I don't necessarily feel that way. It might be a combination of something like that or it might be a combination of you wanting to see me how I am now, as opposed to painting an evil picture or the bad boy image."
Except for the made-for-television "Battle of Bighorn" in which Woods was teamed with Annika Sorenstam and Duval with Karrie Webb, they have not played in the same tournament since the British Open. In fact, Woods has not played in any tournaments and withdrew before last week's Buick Open.
"My preparation coming here, I really didn't do much, to be honest with you," Woods said Tuesday. "I just kind of took it easy and relaxed at home. Practiced here and there. Played a little golf here and there, which was nice, because I'm playing the next six out of seven weeks."
Duval has been on something of a whirlwind since winning his first major. He flew that night to Toronto for a two-day exhibition hosted by Canadian Mike Weir. He played in The International, finishing tied for 24th. He teamed up with his father Bob, a Senior Tour player, at a charity event in Portland, Ore.
The reception has been the same wherever he has been, though Duval believes the perception has changed greatly.
"I think there's a definite change," Duval said. "It does change how you are looked at and how you are perceived. I think you get looked at as more of a champion, as opposed to just having won the other golf tournaments. ... I think I have greater confidence because of what happened at Lytham."
Interestingly, their respective British Open victories have pulled Woods and Duval closer. It was Woods who put his arm around Duval as they left the Old Course last year. And with Duval's victory last month, the respect Woods already had for Duval grew even deeper.
"David is still the same David," Woods said. "He's a good guy. I think he's going to be a little more confident now in major championships because he knows what it takes to win a major championship. Anyone who wins a major understands now what it takes coming down the stretch, what kind of mental frame of mind you need to have for the entire week, and what kind of game it takes."