Sunday, September 21

Love's 64 untouchable at Sawgrass


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The guys playing alongside and behind him called it one of the greatest rounds they had ever seen.

Davis Love
It's only appropriate that Davis Love's Tiger-esque charge come complete with a few Tiger-esque fist pumps.

And this time, they weren't talking about Tiger Woods.

Davis Love III hit all the shots and made all the crucial putts Sunday in The Players Championship, closing with an 8-under 64 in cold, blustery conditions for a victory he ranks among his best.

''An incredible round of golf,'' Love said after winning by six shots in a tournament regarded as golf's fifth major.

It was every bit of that.

Two strokes behind to start the final round, Love blitzed the field with five straight birdies. From the pine straw on the par-5 16th, he wrapped a 6-iron around the pines and over the lake to 10 feet for eagle, just like Woods had done before him.

When it was over, Love matched the best closing round in the 30-year history of The Players Championship and won the richest prize on the PGA Tour.

''It's the best round of golf I've ever seen played,'' said Fred Couples, his best friend on tour and playing partner Sunday. ''He was just phenomenal.''

Jay Haas, a co-leader to start the final round, was 2-under for the day and was pressing just to keep up.

''We just got run over by Davis,'' he said.

Love provided the charge everyone expected from Woods and delivered a performance every bit as dominant.

He finished at 17-under 271 for a six-stroke win over Haas and Padraig Harrington, his second victory this season and a huge boost to his confidence with the Masters only two weeks away.

''I wasn't picked as a guy to win Augusta the last couple of years,'' Love said. ''It's nice to be back in that position.''

Haas, trying to become the oldest winner of The Players Championship, settled for a consolation prize. He closed with an even-par 72, and his tie for second earned him enough money to move into the top 10 on the money list and qualify for The Masters.

Harrington, of Ireland, made back-to-back bogeys early in his round and was never a factor. He also had a 72.

Love was playing in the group ahead with Couples, who also had a 64 when he won The Players Championship seven years ago.

This performance was even better.

Strong, cold winds that shooed away the rain left the TPC at Sawgrass as difficult as it had been all week, but Love made it look like he was on a pitch-and-putt.

Even into the crosswinds, the most challenging in golf, Love blasted his drives down the middle of the fairway and stuck his approach shots close to the hole.

''You can't do that for 18 holes, and he did it,'' Couples said. ''In these conditions, he did not miss a shot.''

Love, who earned $1.17 million, joined Couples, Jack Nicklaus and Hal Sutton as the only multiple winners of The Players Championship.

Love's best closing round ever was a 62 to win at Greensboro in 1992. He also had a 63 in the final round at the 2001 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and a final-round 66 at Winged Foot in the 1997 PGA Championship.

This might have topped them all.

''I didn't have a blow-it-out-of-the-water round like I did today,'' Love said.

Robert Allenby had a 7-under 65 to finish at 278, a score that looked as though it might be good enough to win, with the wind starting to howl and temperatures dropping. But Love made sure that wasn't the case.

Woods started the final round five strokes behind and was poised to make a charge when he rolled in a 20-footer for eagle on the second hole. The rest of his round was hardly characteristic of someone who had won three of his first four tournaments.

Despite two eagles, Woods hit three balls into the water and wound up with a 72 and a tie for 11th, the first time since the British Open that he failed to finish in the top 10.

''I could have stayed home and it would have been the same score -- even par,'' Woods said. ''Instead, I came out there and created a few more gray hairs.''

Love, who won at Pebble Beach earlier this season, now has 16 victories in a career that many believe has not lived up to his talent. Love has struggled with a 54-hole lead, but he proved again to be dangerous coming from behind.

Two strokes behind going into the final round, the key shot was a 12-foot par putt on the third hole that kept him close to Harrington and Haas. Before long every putt started falling, and Love left everyone in his wake.

Allenby was eight strokes behind going into the final round, with 32 players between him and the leaders. He never thought about winning, even as wind pushed away rain clouds and made conditions tougher, even when he slowly piled up the birdies.

As the gusts increased and the temperatures plunged, Allenby at least wanted to give the leaders something to think about. From 202 yards in the fairway, he hit a 3-iron as hard and as low as he could, and it stopped about 8 feet from the hole.

''I picked a target and hit it as low as I could,'' Allenby said. ''I knew if I could hole that putt, it might make a difference.''

Ultimately, it only brought him a tie for fourth with Jim Furyk (69) at 10-under 278.

Turns out, it wasn't even the best round of the day.

Love's burst of birdies started with his tee shot to 3 feet on the par-3 eighth, which gave him a share of the lead at 11 under, and he never slowed down. He hit a wedge that stopped 4 feet from the hole on No. 9, hit another wedge to 6 feet on No. 10, two-putted the par-5 11th and capped his amazing run with a 20-footer on No. 12.

Chad Campbell had an eagle-birdie-par finish to shoot 70 and tie for sixth, assuring him a top-10 spot on the PGA Tour money list and his first trip to The Masters.





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