Love at a Career Crossroads

By Associated PressDecember 8, 2004, 5:00 pm
04 Target World ChallengeTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Davis Love III looked as if he was hitting his stride.
 
He finished his best season on the PGA Tour last year by winning the Target World Challenge, holding off a late charge by tournament host Tiger Woods and heading into the short offseason with high hopes.
 
He had matched his career best with four PGA Tour victories, including his second title at The Players Championship. He earned more than $6 million for the first time in his career. He was No. 4 in the world ranking, and his name often was included when the conversation turned to golf's elite players.
 
But when he arrived at Sherwood Country Club on Wednesday as the defending champion, Love found himself without a victory for the fourth time in the last six years.
 
At 40 and hampered by neck problems, he is at the intersection of a good career and a great one.
 
'I'm in the top 10 in the world, but competitively I haven't belonged there the last couple of months,' Love said. 'I've been consistent my whole career, and I'd like this to last as long as I can.'
 
The consistency is evident by the fact he finished 10th on the PGA Tour money list with just over $3 million, the only player in the top 10 who did not win this year.
 
Love came close in the spring. He reached the finals of the Match Play Championship and outplayed Woods, but simply couldn't make enough putts before losing on the 34th hole. Two weeks later, he was poised to win the Honda Classic until Todd Hamilton - an unknown at the time - birdied the last two holes to beat him.
 
Love never had a good chance the rest of the year. He ended his official season by missing two cuts and withdrawing from the Tour Championship with his recurring neck injury, the result of playing too much in a desperate attempt to hoist a trophy.
 
'You would think after 20 years of playing competitive golf, you'd figure out when enough is enough,' Love said. 'But this is the first year I really got to the point where physically I wasn't ready to play, mentally I wasn't ready to play, and I was frustrated. Rather than getting away from it, I kept pushing harder and harder.'
 
He now plans to do regular maintenance on his swing, limiting the balls he pounds on the range. Off the course, he knows he needs to learn to relax, cutting back on the time he spends on his tractor or hunting.
 
The Target World Challenge, an unofficial tournament with a 16-man field, will be Love's first event since Nov. 4. Not surprisingly, he sees the tournament differently this time.
 
'I'm looking at it as the start of next year, rather than the finish,' he said.
 
Love has some concrete goals in mind. With 18 career victories, he needs two more to earn a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour. Only Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson among his peers have won 20 times on tour.
 
Love, whose only victory in a major came at the 1997 PGA Championship, also is starting to consider how he will be remembered. Right now, he's not sure.
 
'I'm a couple of majors away from whatever ... maybe the Hall of Fame,' he said. 'I have a chance to have a great career. Right now, it's just a really, really nice career. You want to be remembered as one of the best of your generation. One major is not enough. Two TPCs is great, but I'd like to have three or four.'
 
He wouldn't mind getting started this week, even though the Target World Challenge doesn't count.
 
The field includes Singh in his first appearance since being named PGA Tour player of the year. Singh flew in from New York and headed straight to the practice range to hit balls in the cold rain.
 
The tournament might be an interesting barometer of Woods' game. He won his first stroke-play title of the season last month in Japan, winning by eight shots. Woods knows the Dunlop Phoenix will never be mistaken for a PGA Tour event, although he said he played well enough to win anywhere that week.
 
And he made it sound like his swing changes have finally set in.
 
Others in the field include Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie and Miguel Angel Jimenez from Europe's winning Ryder Cup team, along with Jim Furyk and 51-year-old Jay Haas, both of whom arrived from South Africa.
 
It is a casual week, although it becomes quite serious for those in contention for the $1.25 million winner's check.
 
Money isn't an issue for Love. Winning is.
 
He agrees that his name no long belongs in the same sentence as Singh, Woods, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Mickelson. But he knows how to fix that.
 
'If you're winning, you put yourself up there,' Love said.
 
Related Links:
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    Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

    The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

    How to watch:

    Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

    Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

    Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET


    Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

    Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

    Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.


    Notables in the field:

    Tiger Woods

    • Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

    • Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

    • Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.


    Rickie Fowler

    • The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

    • Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

    • On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 


    Rory McIlroy

    • It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

    • McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

    • Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13). 

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    Lexi, J. Korda part of four-way tie in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 1:01 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after Day 1 of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.

    Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 to tie for the lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.

    ''I just hit the collar. I didn't know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I'm glad it caught the hole,'' Lee said.

    ''It's a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that's going to help.''


    Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


    Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 LPGA tour account last week at the Women's Australian Open, finishing fifth.

    Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She carded four more birdies.

    ''It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,'' Thompson said.

    Her compatriot Korda had a roller-coaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.

    Jutanugarn was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.

    ''I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,'' said Jutanugarn, who was seventh here last year.

    She's trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.

    Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.

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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 12:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.