Final-hole birdie gives Love first win since 2001

Updated: February 10, 2003, 3:15 PM ET
Associated Press

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It's all mental, Davis Love III told himself. Thriving at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is a triumph of the mind.

Davis Love III
Tournament host Clint Eastwood makes Davis Love's day by handing him the mike ... and a hefty check for $900,000.

So Love took the course on Sunday with a lead -- which he promptly lost. He got it back -- and he lost it again, going to the 18th hole needing to do something spectacular for his second win at Pebble Beach in three years.

And on the most nerve-wracking day of his career, Love didn't succumb to the pressure. Instead, he applied it.

Love hit a spectacular approach shot and a short birdie putt on the 18th hole for a one-stroke victory over surging Tom Lehman on Sunday. It was Love's first win since his 2001 triumph at Pebble Beach -- and a big load off his mind.

''That's probably as nervous as I've ever been playing a round of golf,'' Love said. ''I was so nervous (on the 18th) because I figured I had to make eagle to win, birdie to tie. It just seems like whenever I would make a mistake this week, it would force me to get back to a positive.''

Love, who got his 15th PGA Tour victory with a final-round 68, thrust his hands into the air shortly after the last shot. His share of the $5 million purse was $900,000 -- the biggest paycheck ever for the third-leading money winner in PGA history, who finished at 14-under 274.

Five observations
1. Davis Love III won the Sunday battle of two players whose careers had suffered a lull in recent years, and he did it by playing best on the hardest holes, getting a little lucky and finishing strong.

2. The normally wet and wild weather at Pebble Beach stayed away this year, yielding to warm, sunny skies and low winds -- but not lower scores.

3. Mike Weir is off to the best start of his career. He followed up last week's victory at the Bob Hope with a tie for third at Pebble, and had a chance to catch Love until the final holes. Weir is hitting the ball solidly and has set himself up for a breakout season.

4. Phil Mickelson finished in the top 10 in each of his first two tournaments of 2003 thanks to a pair of stellar final rounds. In Sunday's final round at Pebble, however, Mickelson crumbled instead of surged.

5. Playing on a sponsor's exemption, Casey Martin struggled at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week. The cart-riding Martin went 75-78-78 and missed the cut by a mile in his first action since a final-round meltdown at Q-school cost him his PGA Tour card.

More tidbits and analysis in ESPN.com's Weekend Wrapup.

Before his victory at Pebble Beach in 2001, Love had gone 62 events and 34 months between victories. This time, he had been without a win in 44 official events over 24 months while playing a slightly reduced schedule because of neck and back problems -- and a confused state of mind that cleared up at Pebble Beach.

''This tournament has always been about attitude,'' Love said. ''(If) you come here thinking it's going to be wet, it's going to be windy and cold, you've got to play with amateurs, it's going to take six hours -- you're already lost. It definitely is a week for a good attitude, and that fits for me.''

Love held a three-stroke lead over Lehman with six holes to play after an incredible string of six birdies in eight holes, but Lehman made his own birdie binge and caught Love with two holes left.

It was Lehman's first dramatic move in a steady tournament -- and it was a test of every much-heralded mental adjustment Love has made to his game over the last two years.

''I did a good job not watching the leaderboard, but I was watching Tom Lehman an awful lot,'' said Love, who made up a seven-stroke deficit to win in 2001. ''I guess that's just as bad. I was watching him probably too much.''

Besides, Love figured he had used up a whole lot of luck on the 12th hole, when his errant tee shot ricocheted off a greenside photographer to within 4 feet of the cup.

Turns out he still had a few good shots left.

On the fourth straight day of perfect weather on the Monterey Peninsula, two veterans whose careers have lagged recently battled down the stretch of an entertaining final round in the popular pro-am.

''I feel like my game is the best it's been in a long time,'' said Lehman, who has just one victory since winning the British Open and the Tour Championship in 1996. ''I really am hitting the ball more like I used to. It became quite evident to me at the beginning of the season that if I start making a few putts, I'm going to be a factor in some tournaments this year.''

After beginning the day with a two-stroke lead, Love made six birdies in the eight holes around the turn. Lehman charged back with three straight birdies on the back nine and another on the 17th that tied him with Love at 13 under -- but after saving par on the 17th with a tricky 8-foot putt that hung on the lip for an instant, Love finished strong.

He hit a long drive and a spectacular 4-iron from the famous seaside fairway to within 12 feet. Love then two-putted -- moments after Lehman missed a short birdie putt.

Lehman finished with a 5-under 67 to go 13 under for the tournament. It was his best finish since the 2001 Sony Open in Hawaii -- and a thrilling result for Lehman, whose wife, Melissa, is nearly ready to deliver their fourth child. He doesn't plan to go back East with the tour following the West Coast swing.

Tim Herron -- who shot a final-round 66 -- and Mike Weir finished third at 276. Weir, off to the best start of his career, won last week's Bob Hope Classic and held the lead over playing partner Love on the front nine.

''It was unfortunate that I couldn't get a putt to go in on the back nine,'' Weir said. ''But Davis played so well, I doubt I could have caught him.''

In a tournament known for dramatic final-round comebacks -- particularly in the last three years, when Tiger Woods, Love and Matt Gogel all roared from behind -- Love became the first 54-hole winner to hold on since Brett Ogle in 1993.

Love got his biggest break at the par-3 12th, where his tee shot took a serendipitous bounce off greenside photographer Kent Porter. Love tossed the ball to Porter as a keepsake.

''If we hit somebody on the head, we give them the ball,'' Love said with a grin. ''If felt like if you hit a guy in the foot and it comes back on a green and you make a birdie, he at least deserves the ball -- maybe more.''


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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