Davis Love III Wins at Pebble Beach

Monday, February 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Davis Love went 34 months and 62 events on the PGA Tour before he finally won again. He never could have guessed his dubious drought would end at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

He was seven strokes behind going into the final round, a deficit that glared at him as he read the paper Sunday morning. That's when the light came on.

Tiger Woods was seven strokes back with only seven holes to play when he won Pebble last year. At least Love had a full round ahead of him.

``It can be done,'' he said.

A year after Woods' incredible comeback, Love devised one of his own by playing the first seven holes in 8-under par and closing with a 63, the lowest final round by a winner in the 60-year history of the National Pro-Am.

``I'm thrilled to have won,'' Love said. ``It is not, obviously, what we expected.''

Indeed, the script could not have been dreamed up by any of the Hollywood amateurs who gathered on the Monterey Peninsula for a rare week of sunshine.

Love went to the driving range and found grease from the garage smeared over his clubs. Next thing he knew, it was on his clothes, and he had to go back to the house to change. That limited his practice to about 15 minutes.

Like it mattered.

He proceeded to birdie six of the first seven holes. The exception was No. 2, where his wedge from 104 yards in the fairway went into the hole for eagle.

Seven holes. Eight under. In the lead.

If the final chapter was a thriller for Love, it was a horror show for Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Both had a chance to get into a playoff until crucial shots disappeared down the cliffs and onto the rocky beach below.

Love finished at 16-under 272 for a one-stroke victory over Singh, and three strokes ahead of Mickelson and Olin Browne, the co-leaders after 54 holes.

``I've been where Phil and Vijay are a few times in the last two years, and it's not a lot of fun,'' Love said.

Singh was one stroke behind when his tee shot on the par-3 17th sailed left of the green, bounding down the rocks. He had to make a 10-foot putt for bogey, then made a birdie on the 18th for a 69.

Mickelson was charging hard with birdies on the 16th and 17th, and he was 257 yards from the hole on the 18th, in perfect position to make birdie. He hit a driver off the deck, and it flared to the left and over the sea wall.

Mickelson made double bogey.

``I always go for that green. I've never hit it in the water,'' Mickelson said. ``When it got up in the wind, it never had a chance.''

Mickelson and Browne each shot 73.

That left Love as a winner for the 14th time in his career, but the first time since the MCI Classic in April, 1998.

``I had a range of emotions today — nowhere near the lead, then in the lead,'' Love said. ``I kept trying to put what had happened early in the round behind me, and play to win the golf tournament.''

His great start — nine putts on the first nine holes — allowed him to shoot the best score ever at Pebble Beach when players were not allowed to lift, clean and place. Tom Kite in 1983 and David Duval in 1997 had 62s under those conditions.

Love also tied the Pebble Beach record for the biggest final-round comeback, first set by Bob Rosburg in 1961.

That's the same Rosburg who is now a golf analyst and is best known for the phrase, ``He's got no chance.''

Imagine what he would have said about Love.

Such a predicament was more accurate for Woods, who made three straight bogeys for the first time since anyone can remember. One of those was a shot that was hard to forget: a 5-iron into the fifth row of the bleachers behind the par-3 fifth green.

Woods also went onto the beach on the 17th and finished with a 72, eight strokes behind, in a tie for 13th.

He was a mere spectator Sunday, playing in the group behind Love and watching a comeback that must have looked familiar.

The signature shot in Woods' comeback last year was a 97-yard wedge he holed for eagle on the 15th fairway. Love had one of those on the second hole.

``Sometimes,'' Love said, ``it takes something like that to get it going.''

Love's approach to the first green stopped 35 feet away, but he made the putt to begin his blistering string. He hooked his drive on the 502-yard second hole and had to lay up short of the mammoth ditch.

``It was a feel wedge,'' said his caddie, which presumably meant that Love was feeling good about it, especially when it went the hole for eagle.

He birdied No. 3 from 4 feet, rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt up the slope on No. 4, then hit his approach over Stillwater Cove into the 188-yard fifth hole to 3 feet. He got up-and-down from the bunker on the par-5 sixth for another birdie, then hit a sand wedge from 101 yards that spun back to 2 feet on the par-3 seventh.

``If you get far enough up the leader board, it's not an easy golf course to catch up on,'' Love said. ``If I shot a good score, the other guys would have trouble.''

He had about the same shot Mickelson later faced on the 18th, only he crushed a 3-wood from 256 yards to the front of the green for a two-putt birdie. Even with that, Love wasn't sure it would be enough to win.

He waited nearly three years to win, and the final 45 minutes were just as tough.