Love pulls away from field at Target World Challenge

Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2003

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Walking from the practice range before the third round, a fan called out to Tiger Woods, ''Go win today, Tiger!''

Woods smiled and said to himself, ''How can you win a tournament on Saturday?''

Davis Love III might have shown him how.

With a birdie chance on nearly every hole, Love pulled away from Woods and just about everyone else at the Target World Challenge by matching the tournament record of 9-under 63 to build a three-shot lead.

''It didn't seem easy, but I hit a lot of good shots and a lot of good putts,'' said Love, who was at 11-under 205 and in great shape to become the first repeat winner of the event.

It was going so good that when he and Woods reached the 10th tee, Woods mentioned that he was 2-up on Love.

''He said, 'How's that?' I told him I was getting a stroke a hole,'' Woods said, who had dropped seven shots to Love on the front nine.

It was going so good that when Love stood over a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th, all he thought about was making his 11th birdie of the day. Instead, his ball caught the lip and went 8 feet by, and he missed that one for his only bogey.

''Other than that, I felt like I could birdie every hole,'' Love said. ''And I almost did.''

Love's 63 tied the tournament record set last year by Padraig Harrington, which also came in the third round and gave the Irishman a six-shot lead. He wound up holding off a late charge by Woods to win by two.

Love only had a three-shot margin over K.J. Choi (65), although he won't have to worry about Woods.

As most of the leaders were posting birdies on a sunny, benign afternoon at Sherwood, the tournament host gave up ground with a three-putt bogey on No. 3 and then hit his tee shot into the water for a bogey on the next hole.

Woods lost all hope on the final hole, hitting off the pine straw and coming up well short, into the water, and he had to make a 15-footer for bogey. He had a 72 and was nine shots back at 214.

''I'm working on a few things in my swing,'' Woods said. ''When I do it right, I hit some unbelievably good golf shots. When I don't, it's 'Fore Left!' and 'Fore Right!'''

Meanwhile, Love played some of his best golf since early in the year.

''I was confident all day,'' Love said. ''I'm getting more and more comfortable playing with Tiger and around the lead.''

Love was tied with Choi and Justin Leonard when his 4-iron on the difficult par-3 8th climbed just enough to hop into the fringe and stop about 6 feet above the hole for one of only two birdies in the round.

Love holed putts of 20 feet and 15 feet for birdies on the next two holes, then easily reached the par-5 11th with a 5-iron to set up his fourth straight birdie.

It would be a great way to end his best season on tour. Love won four times, and no victory bigger than his final-round 64 at The Players Championship on a cold, windy day at Sawgrass.

While this tournament only counts in the bank $1.2 million of the $5 million purse going to the winner a victory would be meaningful coming against a 16-man field of high-ranked players and three of the four major champions.

Plus, Love has played the last two rounds with Woods, a situation that in the past hasn't allowed him to play his best.

Love took a lot of heat at the 2000 Bay Hill Invitational when he was paired in the final round with Woods and said what everyone else was only thinking that it's tough to beat the No. 1 player in the world.

''It's human nature when you're playing with the No. 1 player, whether it's Fred Couples or Greg Norman or Nick Price or Tiger Woods ... it's harder than playing with your buddy,'' Love said. ''You're playing to win a tournament against the No. 1 player in the world.''

Harrington missed a 3-foot par putt on the final hole for a 70 and was in third place at 211, six shots behind. Masters champion Mike Weir, who opened with a 75, had a 3-under 69 and was at 212.

Choi is making his first appearance in the final event of the year, and would like nothing better to end his season with a victory even though it doesn't count in the record books and won't get him back to Kapalua.

''It would be even better ... because of the field,'' Choi said.

Catching up to Love could require a great round, especially the way Love is playing. The calm, warmer conditions allowed the ball to travel farther and the power hitters to play more aggressively.

The biggest distraction for Love was seeing Woods decked out in white shoes for the first time all year.

''The shoes are bad,'' Love said. ''I've never seen him in white shoes. I commented when I walked on the range. We might not see those tomorrow.''

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