Fresh start for Love pays off with win at Greensboro

Monday, October 9th 2006, 6:39 am
By: News On 6

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) _ Everything was new for Davis Love III: The equipment, the attitude and, most importantly, the result.

No longer was he dwelling on failing to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, or on being bypassed as one of Tom Lehman's two captain's picks.

A fresh start in his home state _ at a familiar course he helped reconfigure _ was just what Love needed to rediscover his rhythm.

``I just needed to start with a clean slate, and I came in with a good attitude and excited and working hard, and I worked on getting comfortable with my clubs, comfortable with my golf ball, with my swing and setup,'' Love said.

Playing after a five-week layoff, Love snapped out of a three-year slump and shook off those lingering Ryder Cup blues by shooting a 6-under 66 on Sunday for his second victory in the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro.

``I came in excited and ready to play rather than fearful that I was not going to play well and make the Ryder Cup team, that I needed to win,'' Love said. ``I came in with a purpose.''

A native of Charlotte who played at North Carolina, the 42-year-old Love had three straight birdies late in the round to seal his 19th PGA Tour victory and first since the 2003 International. He finished at 16-under 272 and earned $900,000.

``People want me to win. They expect me to win,'' Love said. ``Especially at a place like this. That's been my problem, expectations, whether they were mine or other people's. It's nice to put those aside and just play golf.''

Jason Bohn (66) finished two strokes back at 14 under, and Eric Axley (67) and Steve Flesch (68) were another shot behind.

Love, a six-stroke winner in the 1992 tournament, redesigned the Forest Oaks Country Club course three years ago to change and lengthen the layout to 7,333 yards.

In recent years, any inside information he might've picked up didn't seem to help. He missed the cut in 2003 and '04 and withdrew last year.

This time, he began the final round sharing the lead at 10 under. He opened his round with two birdies and overcame his lone bogey of the day _ on the par-4 seventh _ with birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15.

``I kept looking up at the leaderboard _ hey, you see Davis, you think you've got to keep firing at the flagsticks,'' Bohn said.

Love's last birdie gave him a two-stroke lead, and he then closed the round with three consecutive pars. After tapping in his 2-foot putt on the par-4 18th, he hugged his caddie and tipped his cap to his homestate crowd.

Love had seven birdies and a bogey during his final round en route to his first victory since the 2003 International.

``I'll always remember this one because it's like starting over again,'' Love said.

And it took this win to help ease the sting of not being part of the Ryder Cup team.

``I made making that (Ryder Cup) team such a big deal that it took over my golf life,'' Love said. ``I was playing for the record _ I wanted to make seven, so I could make eight, rather than just playing the game and trying to be playing well when I got to the Ryder Cup.

``Five weeks of not playing tournament golf helps, and obviously not playing a Ryder Cup _ which takes a lot out of you _ certainly helps,'' he added.

Bohn started the day at 8 under and had six birdies during his final round, including two straight on Nos. 13 and 14 to move to 14 under. He closed with four straight pars, but it was still his best finish of the year.

``I told my caddie I need to get to 7-under par to have a chance, because I felt like that would make a leader shoot 5-under par,'' Bohn said. ``For Davis to shoot 6 under, it's very rare that you're not going to win when you shoot 6 under leading the golf tournament on Sunday. ... I guess I needed 8.''

Axley had a three-stroke lead at 15 under with five holes to play, but made two late bogeys _ one on the par-4 14th when he hit his tee shot into the trees, and another on the par-3 17th when he missed an 8-foot par putt.

``I was trying to play aggressive and make some birdies, but I didn't feel safe by any means at 15 under,'' Axley said.