Strong finish this weekend could have 'major' impact for Love

6/14/2008 - Golf Davis Love III

SAN DIEGO -- Nobody looks forward to qualifying.

Ask Kenny Perry. He wanted no part of the 36-hole marathon required to get into the U.S. Open for players not already exempt.

But then ask Davis Love III. Unlike Perry, he couldn't wait for the sectional qualifier he signed up for outside Columbus, Ohio. He went out and prepared for it with the kind of determination Love sometimes has been accused of lacking.

He wasn't going to sit out another major championship. And at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he's making the most of it.

Love is 1-under-par through 36 holes. He stands two shots back of leader Stuart Appleby with two rounds left to play.

Love, 44, missed the Masters in April, which happens -- but not to him. It was the first time since the 1990 U.S. Open -- a span of 70 major championships -- that Love was on the sideline for one of the game's Grand Slam tournaments.

"I had an opportunity to get in this one, and I knew it was coming," Love said of the 108th U.S. Open. "And I trained a lot to get ready to be able to play 36 holes [in qualifying] and tried to get my game back in shape."

Love's 69 on Friday at Torrey Pines moved him up the leaderboard on a day when any score around par was going to make a difference.

"I've got 36 holes this weekend, and that could help me get in a lot of majors," said Love, who birdied two of his last three holes Friday to put himself in position to win his second major title.

With a strong performance and a nice paycheck for a high finish, Love could move closer to qualifying for this year's British Open based on a special PGA money list. A top-8 finish would earn him a trip back to the Masters in April; if he finishes in at least a tie for 15th place, Love will be able to tee it up at next year's U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Love's major championship streak began at the 1990 British Open and continued through last year's PGA Championship. He had 17 top-10 finishes, including a victory at the 1997 PGA. As recently as 2005, he was in contention at the PGA, where he tied for fourth.

But since then, Love missed the cut in five of eight major championships and his game slipped from the heights that saw him finish among the top 20 PGA Tour money-winners for 15 of 17 years.

The 2007 season ended prematurely when Love suffered torn tendons in his left ankle after stepping in a hole while playing golf at home. The freak injury meant a lengthy rehabilitation period -- and not enough time to earn a Masters invitation.

For two months, he could basically do nothing golf-related, although he quickly got on a rehabilitation program.

"Most of it wasn't fun, but it was a challenge and it took me until the end of January to feel like I could really start playing," he said. "And I'm still doing stuff. It's going to be a process.

"I keep looking at it like guys get hurt and don't get to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs or NBA Finals or the World Series. So I have looked at it that way, and if I hadn't gotten hurt, I would have kept on playing through September, October and I might … have kept my position and could have started off [the year] in Hawaii and been a little more prepared to try and get in the Masters. So I took it with a grain of salt."

Love's victory at the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Greensboro came three years after his last previous win on tour and upped his PGA Tour total to 19. It is a number some have felt was lacking, given his talent, his long game and his pedigree. His late father, Davis Love Jr., was a renowned teacher, and Love came to the PGA Tour after a fine amateur career. He won his first PGA Tour event more than 20 years ago, in 1987.

Yet Love probably will be elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame based on all those victories, which also include two wins at the Players Championship.

Not that he is ready to look back.

"Physically, I think I can play the game, and I think if I get on a roll, get my confidence going, I can have a few more really, really good years, and possibly great," he said. "And I feel like I'm putting well. As long as I stay positive and keep playing hard, good things will happen."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.