Love beats Austin in playoff for third win of season

Updated: April 23, 2003, 10:34 AM ET
Associated Press

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- There must be something special about that Harbour Town lighthouse for Davis Love III.

Woody Austin and Davis Love III
Woody Austin and Davis Love III share a handshake after their sloppy four-hole playoff.

Love chipped in on the final hole to force a playoff, then hit the flagstick with his approach on the fourth extra hole -- the famous 18th with a candy-cane striped lighthouse in the background -- to defeat Woody Austin and win his fifth MCI Heritage on Sunday.

''This place has always been good to me,'' Love said.

No one can deny that.

Love trailed Austin by a stroke on his last hole when he sent his approach to the right of the green. Feeling the confidence that comes with four prior victories at Harbour Town Golf Links, Love told his brother and caddie, Mark, he would chip it in for birdie.

Moments later, Love rolled in a wedge from 66 feet, 8 inches away to tie for the lead at 13-under 271.

''That's why I was so excited because I finally put my mind to it,'' Love said.

Then, after watching Austin miss makable putts for the victory on the second and third extra holes, Love struck a 6-iron that bounced off the pin and settled about 3 feet away.

Love lined up the putt, took one practice swing and dropped it in, to the blares of boat horns in Callibogue Sound.

''I hear a lot of jokes around the locker room saying, 'You're automatic here,' or whatever,'' said Love, who shot a 67. ''But I feel like I'm comfortable here. Maybe when I get in trouble or when I hit a bad shot, I don't lose my patience quite as fast here.''

Love won for the 17th time in his PGA Tour career.

Austin, who had a bogey-free 68, had his chances to win. He missed a 6-foot putt on the second playoff hole and a 3-footer on the third extra hole, both which would have given him the title. But he had no regrets about this week.

''It's been a long time since I felt I was hitting it this good,'' he said. ''It's fun to be back in the game.''

As Austin waited to hit his approach to the 18th hole in regulation, he was told he was the only one at 13-under and felt he might be moments from victory. Then he heard the crowd react to Love's chip-in.

''I look up, I heard a deafening roar,'' Austin said. ''This is a great place for him, obviously and great things happen to him here.''

Love, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and The Players Championship, joins Tiger Woods and Masters winner Mike Weir as three-time champions on tour this season.

And Love has no equal at Harbour Town. He was already the all-time champion with victories in 1987, 1991, 1992 and 1998, and the tournament's leading money-winner, a total that grew to better than $2.1 million with this win. Nine of his last 12 rounds here -- including all four this year -- have been in the 60s.

This week, though, Love was content to remain just behind the leaders. He began the round three shots behind Stewart Cink and steadily moved up as others fell away, particularly Ernie Els.

Els had four birdies and an eagle on the front nine to grab a lead that looked unbeatable. But he drove it out of bounds on the 16th hole to start his downfall.

Hal Sutton (68), Chris Riley (67), Geoff Ogilvy (67) and David Gossett (66) were a stroke behind Love and Austin. Two strokes back were Steve Flesch (69), Matt Gogel (68) and Tom Pernice Jr. (68).

Els' collapse was quick and unexpected.

The Big Easy lived up to his nickname early on, his simple swing leading to a two-shot lead over several competitors through 15 holes. But he pushed his drive out of bounds on the 16th, the ball bouncing off the cartpath and through hundreds of fans.

''I don't want to blame anybody; I hit the shot,'' said Els, still in disbelief. ''I've seen people throw it back.''

Els re-teed and made double-bogey 6 to create an eight-way tie for first. He drove over the green on the par-3 17th and made bogey to lose the lead for good. When Els closed with a bogey on the 18th, he had dropped four shots in three holes.

''It's the only shot I kind of missed all day, wasn't it?'' Els said of his drive on No. 16. ''One bad break, and that's the tournament.''

Sutton was on his way toward joining the playoff, but his approach shot to No. 18 landed in a bunker buried between the sand and the grassy lip. Sutton had to blast about 20 feet past and took bogey.

''I don't want to sound like sour grapes, but I had a bad break,'' Sutton said. ''I had to be aggressive with the bunker shot. I could not hit the flop shot I wanted.''

Notes
Hootie Johnson vs. Martha Burk wasn't totally forgotten at Harbour Town. Several spectators had on Masters green ballcaps with the name, ''Hootie'' across the front, a crossout of Burk's name on the side and the phrase, ''Strong Support 2003'' on the back. ... When Chris Riley made a bogey 5 on the 11th hole, it was his first one of the week at Harbour Town. ... Glen Day and Jesper Parnevik had the best rounds of the day with a 7-under 64.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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