- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson have won 44 PGA Tour events between them. They have been Ryder Cup teammates in the last five matches. They are international stars with million-dollar smiles, if one may judge by Ford commercials and Polo spreads.
In short, the 54-hole co-leaders of the PGA Championship are easily among the best golfers of their generation.
Now, take that last sentence, cross out "their" and replace it with "any," and pull up a barstool. The discussion gets a little more interesting.
History, you see, is a sterner judge. History demands something more from each man, something that they are in ideal position to grab Sunday at the Baltusrol Golf Club. Love and Mickelson, who will tee off at 3 p.m. with scores of 6-under 210, can each win a second major championship.
"Oh, it would mean a lot, obviously," Love said. "But we can talk about that tomorrow night if we need to."
Mickelson wouldn't even venture that far.
"I've got a lot to worry about for the next 18 holes," Mickelson said, "and the last thing I want to do is jump ahead."
Defining greatness in golf is a slippery thing. Merriam and Webster died before they could get it on paper. What standards there are, honed in men's grills and pubs on both sides of the Atlantic, recognize the obvious. Any Tom, Dick or Shaun Micheel can win one major. To be considered great, you've got to win more than one.
Since Willie Park putted out his featherie in the first Open Championship in 1860 at Prestwick, 193 men have won one of golf's four major championships. And should Thomas Bjorn, Pat Perez or even Jason Bohn win on Sunday, well, say hello to 194.
But winning a second? That's when it begins to get interesting. Only 72 men have won two majors.
"Yeah, you obviously arrogantly think if you win one that the rest of them are easy," Love said Saturday night. "The second one is just as hard."
Love won the 1997 PGA Championship about an hour east of here at Winged Foot. His victory, secured with a final-round 66, is one of the treasured stories of the game.
Davis Love Jr., a club pro recognized as one of the most gifted instructors in the game, died in 1988 in the crash of a private plane. When his eldest son putted out on the final green, his other son Mark on the bag, a rainbow glistened overhead.
It seemed obvious that the PGA victory would be his breakthrough. Love was only 33 years old. Surely more major championships would come.
But we thought the same thing about Fred Couples when he won the 1992 Masters, Paul Azinger when he won the 1993 PGA, and Corey Pavin when he won the 1995 U.S. Open. Lanny Wadkins won 21 PGA Tour events, more than double the number needed to qualify to get on the ballot for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Wadkins won only one major, the 1977 PGA. He's 56 years old and not in the Hall of Fame yet.
Mickelson won his first major 16 months ago, famously ending an 0-for-42 streak as a professional by winning a duel with Ernie Els at the 2004 Masters. Like Love, Mickelson was 33 years old, and like Love, Mickelson's victory appeared to be the breakthrough.
"That's why, when you see a guy who has three or four or five of them, he's looked upon a little bit different than the rest of the players," Love said. "One major puts you in the club, but it's just in the club. Four or five of them puts you in the superstar status."
Two major championships is no guarantee of greatness. Take Dave Stockton, who, like Love may do, won two PGAs (1970-76). Take Doug Ford, who won the PGA (1955) and the Masters (1957), just as Mickelson is attempting. Neither man passed the test of greatness.
On Saturday, Baltusrol felt as if it had been placed inside a car in the parking lot of the nearby Short Hills Mall. The temperature went into the triple digits. But Mickelson steadied himself after a rocky start, playing the last 12 holes in 1 under for a 72. Love, who has renovated his chronically aching back and neck, never faltered. He started with two birdies and got his third straight 68.
"It was not that long ago, last year especially, that I tended to fade at the end of the round and especially at the end of a tournament," Love said. "I'm digging balls out of the rough that I wasn't able to and I'm hitting drives powerfully at the end of a round like I couldn't last year, so I'm feeling good."
He is 41 years old, and dismisses the notion that the prime of his career is behind him.
"I always thought when I was a kid that I was watching guys win majors in their 40s," Love said.
That's true. Jack Nicklaus turned 40 in 1980 and won three more majors. Raymond Floyd turned 40 in 1982 and won two majors. Lee Trevino, age 44, won the 1984 PGA.
Love is on the short list of professional sport's nice guys. And if he doesn't hold onto the lead Sunday, he can fall back on a parallel that he may appreciate. Love, as a Georgia native, is a devoted fan of the Atlanta Braves. As successful as they've been, they, too, have won only one major championship.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.