Wednesday, August 27
A Love like no other
By Ivan Maisel
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- No one who watched Davis Love III shoot 64 on Sunday to win the Players Championship groped for words.
"It's the best round of golf I've ever seen played," said Fred Couples, Love's close friends and a 23-year member of the PGA Tour.
"One of the best rounds I've ever watched in my life," said John "Cubby" Burke, Love's caddy and a 17-year Tour veteran.
"Obviously, an incredible round of golf," said Love, whose 72-hole score of 271 beat Jay Haas and Padraig Harrington, the third-round co-leaders, by six strokes. When he won the 1997 PGA, Love shot a final-round 66 made memorable by the rainbow that framed the course at the conclusion of the day.
There were no rainbows in the suddenly sunny sky late Sunday afternoon, just a few jet contrails blown crooked by the wind gusts. There was a lot of that going around. On a day with weather that would have been right at home at Pebble Beach -- wind and rain in the morning, more wind and chill in the afternoon -- Love responded by winning, just as he did at the AT&T eight weeks ago. The 1992 Players champion joins Jack Nicklaus, Steve Elkington, Couples and Hal Sutton as multiple winners of the event.
Two weeks before he turns 39 -- on Masters Sunday -- Love is playing the best golf of his career. He lapped what is annually the best field in golf by six shots. That's not as unusual as you might think. Love has won 16 events in 18 years on the PGA Tour, and eight of those victories have been by at least four strokes.
He may be his own worst enemy. Love is so good at times that when he is merely one of the best players in the world, he has been accused of underachieving.
"When I read I should do better, I don't disagree," Love said. "I should do better. You can say I'm not a good closer. I should win more. I agree. I'm going to try and get better."
Love might find mastering nuclear fission an easier challenge than improving on his final round Sunday. When the wind knocked down his 5-iron at the par-3 third hole five yards short of the green, Love pitched to 13 feet and made the putt. The par steadied him. On the eighth tee, he stood 10-under, one stroke behind Haas. Love birdied each of the next five holes. He also birdied five consecutive holes Friday. After that round, Burke, his caddy, said, "You win tournaments by playing two great nines and keeping everything else around par."
After Couples bogeyed the third hole on his way to a 74 and a 10th-place finish, he never hit first off the tee again. "I ended up hitting it close on 12, and 13 is a par-3," Couples said, "and I thought to myself, well, this is good because I'll be up first next hole. At last, I'm going to be able to help the guy." Couples meant he could hit his shot, and Love could judge the conditions by how he did. Then Love made a 21-foot birdie putt, and Couples didn't get to help him after all.
Not that Love didn't try. As he teed his ball at the infamous par-3 17th, Love looked at Couples and asked, "Are you sure I'm up?"
"You just made eagle," Couples replied, "so I'm not up."
With the victory, Love won $1.17 million, and moved within $192,000 of the money leader, Tiger Woods.
For all that Love accomplished, here's a few things he didn't do:
He didn't hit a memorable winning shot. He didn't need to. By the time he hit the 6-iron off the pine straw in the left rough to within 11 feet at No. 16, he had a three-shot lead. When he holed the putt, the lead reached five. If any leader walked to the 17th tee with a bulletproof margin, it was Love.
He didn't make a bogey after the seventh hole Saturday, which is a streak of 29 holes for those of you scoring at home.
He didn't three-putt any of his 72 holes. Love made 22 birdies and an eagle in four rounds. Only two of them came on putts of more than 12 feet. That means two things: one, iron play worthy of Nicklaus in his prime. "This was just ball-striking," Couples aid. "They were all like this -- 6-iron, 8-iron, 3-iron. It was phenomenal;" and two, of the five two-putt birdies and the eagle he had on the par-5s, only two finished with a putt longer than two feet. Love's first putts are more accurate than Lo-Jack. Coming into the tournament, he led the tour in fewest three-putts (two, in 378 holes) and approach putting (his average second putt was shorter than two feet).
And Love didn't cough up the lead, as he did on the back nine at Honda two weeks ago to his good friend Justin Leonard.
Love will not play in Atlanta this week. His next stop is Augusta National, a course made for long hitters who putt well. Then again, the type of golf that Love is playing right now would win anywhere.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
|Davis Love III hoists the crystal trophy, which was being engraved even before he reached the 18th tee.|