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Greenbrier Classic: Duke enters W.Va. on a roll

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Greenbrier Resort's Old White TPC has twice disallowed Phil Mickelson to make the cut, while also keeping Tiger Woods from playing during the weekend in 2012.

It did no such thing to then 43-year-old Ken Duke last year when he finished tied for seventh.

Less than a year later, Duke is relishing his first PGA Tour win and will play in his second consecutive Greenbrier Classic on an all-time high.

"It's special to look back on my whole career so far and see where I've been," said Duke, who won the Travelers Championship on June 23.

At 44 years, 4 months and 25 days, Duke - in his 187th start, became the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event since Ed Dougherty claimed the 1995 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic (now the Sanderson Farms Championship) at the age of 47 years, 8 months and 19 days.

He won't be earning his first victory at the Greenbrier Classic like Scott Stallings (2011) and Ted Potter Jr. (2012).

Considering his performance last year and how the Old White TPC fits his game, he might be celebrating his second at the end of this week.

He was 11-under par after three rounds last year and finished at 11-under 269 with Roberto Castro, Kevin Na, Sean O'Hair and Webb Simpson, none of whom are older than 30.

 "It's kind of set up for me," he said. "I play left to right and play fades and had a lot of confidence going in there. As the week went on, I got stronger and stronger. I just had a couple bad shots late."

Duke had an eagle in the fourth round on No. 12, but that was wasted with back-to-back double bogeys on No. 15 and No. 16. In fact, Duke had just three bogeys in the first two rounds combined.

It's not hard for the Arkansas native to have a positive perspective.

Duke was diagnosed with scoliosis as a seventh grader and wore a back brace while earning medalist honors in a high school district tournament.

He had a 16-inch rod inserted in his back, which he wears today. Duke was a multi-sport athlete as a teenager, but decided to narrow it to golf.

"It's a more individual sport," said Duke, who described himself as a "weekend golfer" as a teenager. "I could go out and do it on my own. With my condition, I didn't need a lot of people out there with me."

He turned pro in 1994 at the age of 26 and earned his PGA Tour card 10 years later. He lost it, and got it back after finishing on top of the Nationwide Tour money list in 2006.

"I went back on what I've been through here and there," Duke said. "I got to see one of my buddies in Memphis and being where he's been and we talked about some of that stuff. It's been special."

He still isn't where he wants to be, missing 11 cuts in 19 events this season with just two top 10s, but he knows how to put things in perspective.

"I'm just going to try to keep playing and putting myself in the mix and try to get a chance to win again," he said. "I'm just going to try and have fun really."

Duke exercises regularly to maintain his strength and there is less stress with a regular PGA Tour schedule.

"It just feels good," he said. "I competed for years and it just feels good to get it done with the exemptions, the Masters ... it's pretty cool stuff."

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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