Sports views

Love finds second major as hard as first

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

He's not going to beat the drama of last time. Not even close. That one came complete with a rainbow poking through the clouds on the final putt and tearful memories of a father who taught him the game. That one helped lift one major burden from his shoulders.

Davis Love III thought it was going to be easy after that day. He finally had his major, fulfilling both his promise and his late father's dream by winning the PGA Championship.

He thought he would win more, maybe win them in bunches. The last thing he thought was that he would be playing in the same tournament eight years later still searching for his second major championship win.

''You obviously arrogantly think if you win one that the rest of them are easy,'' Love said. ''The second one is just as hard.''

He still wonders why he hasn't done it again, wonders how history will treat him if he doesn't win a handful. He's been eclipsed by other players who weren't around when he started playing for money nearly two decades ago, and he must understand that at age 41 his chances are beginning to run out.

That's why his career and his psyche could be in play just as much as the Wanamaker Cup when Love goes off Sunday with his best chance yet to win major No. 2. He'll tee off in the afternoon on Baltusrol Golf Club's Lower Course in the final group with Phil Mickelson, tied for the lead after three straight 68s.

He'll do it with memories of the 1997 PGA at Winged Foot firmly in the back of his mind. It was a milestone in his life and in his career, a tournament that helped him finally shed the dreaded label of being the best player never to win a major.

On his way to that win, the son of a PGA teaching professional couldn't help but think what the win would have meant to his father, who was killed in a 1988 plane crash.

''Every time I thought about winning, every time I thought about what it would mean, every time I thought about whether I was three strokes or four ahead,'' Love said that day, ''I started to get choked up. I had to remind myself to keep playing the game.''

When he sank the final putt to win by five strokes, the sun came out and a rainbow spread out above the course. Love, and many others, took it as a sign that his father was above looking out for him.

There are similarities this week that could suit him well.

Like Winged Foot, this is a PGA Championship. Like Winged Foot, it is in the New York metropolitan area. And like Winged Foot, it is a long traditional golf course that suits Love's game perfectly.

Love hasn't won a major in eight years, hasn't won a golf tournament of any kind in two. But a workout regimen has strengthened him, his back feels better, and he came into the week determined not to let the early rounds get away from him like he has in the other majors.

Sports shrink Bob Rotella told him earlier in the week, ''If I can get you to Sunday, I know you'll do well,'' and Love is desperate to take that positive thought with him.

''I know I've played some Sunday rounds that will win this golf tournament,'' he said.

He'll have to do it by overcoming both the course and the house favorite.

Mickelson will get the roars, the cheers and the adulation. That's because Mickelson smiles his way around the course, while Love walks about with what seems to be a perpetual frown and seldom interacts with the crowd.

When he does, it's not always good. Instead of celebrating after clinching the 2000 Presidents Cup with a putt on the back nine, Love instead turned to berate a photographer in front of stunned fans.

When he played Tiger Woods in the final of the Match Play Championship last year, Love was widely criticized after threatening not to play anymore until a man who heckled him by saying ''No Love'' was removed from the course.

He may not win the popularity contest against Mickelson, but he's certainly got the talent to win the tournament. Love is a long hitter who hits his irons high, just the kind of game needed to tame a course that has gotten firmer and faster as the tournament went on.

There's a good chance of thunderstorms Sunday, so the conditions could change. There will be clouds, and there just might be rain.

If he's really lucky, there might be something else.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.



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