Golfers Find Highs, Lows on Course

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Davis Love III went 62 events on the PGA Tour without winning and started hearing whispers that he only cared about the money. Tiger Woods has gone a whopping six tournaments without winning, and some people wonder what's wrong.

There's a simple explanation on both fronts: It's not an easy game.

Woods only made it look that way.

A year ago, he won nine times in 20 PGA tournaments, three of those major championships. He played his final 47 rounds at par or better. He went 63 consecutive holes in a major without making a bogey. He made just about every putt that mattered. His raw scoring average of 68.17 was the lowest ever.

Lately, Woods is suffering from what he calls a bout of ``liprosy,'' a disease that afflicts anyone who dares to play this game at one time or another.

He counted 14 putts that lipped out in Phoenix. They bumped all over the place at Pebble. Woods used to pump his first when the putts fell. Now, he turns up the palm of his hand and tries to figure out why they don't.

Such is golf.

Mark Calcavecchia broke a 72-hole scoring record that stood for 46 years when he won the Phoenix Open by taking only 256 strokes. Four days later, he had a 40 on the front nine at Pebble Beach and wound up missing the cut.

Matt Gogel had a career-best 62 on Friday. He was 19 strokes worse the next day.

Love was at the top of his game when he won the PGA Championship at Winged Foot in 1997 with an 11-under 269, a performance that was even better than the record score Woods had earlier that year in the Masters.

But after winning the MCI Classic the next year, Love suffered through 62 tournaments over 34 months of missed opportunities and missed putts.

His game was fundamentally sound. It was simply a matter of getting the right breaks at the right time, whether that was Bay Hill in '99 or the Nelson Classic in 2000, a tournament that was decided by putts on the 18th hole that missed the cup by a blade of grass.

``I didn't consider myself playing poorly,'' Love said after ending his dry spell with a seven-stroke comeback to win Pebble Beach. ``I was playing pretty damn good. Way up on the money list the last two years. I've been very close.''

Truth is, he didn't play all that great at Pebble Beach and still won.

Love had a 31 on the front nine Friday, and a 28 on the front nine Sunday when he erased a seven-stroke deficit. During his drought, Love has played far better and far more consistently without winning.

But everyone had an answer for what he was doing wrong. Love even heard it from a guy in the gallery who told him on the way to the seventh green Sunday that he needed to take more time over his putts and line them up better. Love was 7 under at that point.

``People think that no matter what you do, you're not doing it right,'' he said.

Love wasn't the only one who was caught in a rut.

Justin Leonard went through a two-year victory drought. Tom Lehman's lasted three years. David Duval went 18 months without winning.

Don't expect Woods to go that long, not even close. One reason he wins so much is that Woods gives himself so many chances. He has missed only one cut in his career, and has finished fifth or better in 35 of his last 52 tournaments.

The longer he goes without winning only embellishes his spectacular season. He was only three putts away from six victories instead of nine, from two majors instead of three.

``Golf is a fickle game,'' Earl Woods said late last year as he tried to size up his son's season. ``It's an imprecise, yet precise sport that believes the description of your achievement. You can be a master one day, an idiot the next.''

Woods is no fool.

Still, the same game he thoroughly dominated last year is making him look only a notch above average three tournaments into this year. Putts that once fell with regularity now seem to defy gravity.

``I'm not that far off,'' Woods said when he left Pebble Beach, eight strokes behind Love in a tie for 13th.

Earl Woods told the story of watching his 19-year-old son as an amateur leading in the first round of the '96 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills until hitting two balls into the water on the 16th hole and shooting 76.

The father was in the press tent, chuckling after each shot spun back into the water.

``The message is, 'Son, don't take yourself seriously.' He's not a robot. He's not perfect. He makes mistakes. The worst kind of shots can happen to him,'' Earl Woods said. ``It's always been like that. I wanted him to know that it's just a game, and he's really not that good.''