What a Love-ly Performance

By Mercer BaggsMarch 30, 2003, 5:00 pm
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Chase your own potential.
Those are the words written on a yellow legal pad sitting in a drawer in Davis Love IIIs motor home.

Love met his own potential Sunday at The Players Championship, winning the event in oh-so-ever-impressive fashion.
With winds gusting up to 25 mph and temperatures dropping into the low 50s, Love fired a flawless 8-under 64. He used five straight birdies and one emphatic eagle en route to claiming his second career victory in the event referred to as the fifth major.
'I certainly know it's the best round of golf I've ever played. I dont think I could have done a better job,' Love said. It was definitely one of the biggest challenges of my career, because I certainly didnt need another near miss.
Love finished at 17-under-par 271, a full six strokes lower than overnight co-leaders Padraig Harrington (72) and Jay Haas (72). Robert Allenby (65) and Jim Furyk (69) tied for fourth at 10-under.
Love, who won this event in 1992, birdied Nos. 8-12 Sunday to clear the top of a congested leaderboard at the TPC at Sawgrass.
Leading by three, he pulled his ball into the rough at the 507-yard par-5 16th. With water guarding the green on the right, he hit a 197-yard 6-iron to 10 feet. That putt gave him a five-shot advantage, and two closing pars gave him the title.
The win is Loves 16th on the PGA Tour, and easily his most important ' and most impressive ' since the 1997 PGA Championship.
Id say (the feeling) is on equal footing with Winged Foot, Love said. Ive been building up for this and been improving.
Love is continuing to accomplish the goals he set at the beginning of the season. His talks with sports psychologist Bob Rotella ' who inspired the words on his legal pad, combined with his increase in health and attitude have put him in the familiar position he desires.
This off-season, I said Im going to feel better, play better, be more dedicated to what Im doing because Im in the prime of my career. Im not on the downside of my career, he said.
His $1,170,000 payday is the biggest in his 17-year career, eclipsing the $900,000 he made for winning this years AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Its also the fourth time hes recorded a multiple-win season on tour.
Though Pebble provided Love with a measure of confidence, negative thoughts of the Honda Classic still lingered in his mind. Two weeks ago, he entered the final round leading Justin Leonard by one, only to make eight pars and one bogey on the back nine to lose by a shot.
I was putting all the thoughts into why I didnt win at Mirasol or why I didnt win here or there and put them behind me and just played golf, said Love.
This time, he was among the hunters; two back of Harrington and Haas. In all, 14 players were within six strokes of the lead heading to Sunday, but few of the favorites factored into the final outcome.
Craig Perks, trying to become the first player in tournament history to successfully defend his title, never got a chance to display any closing dramatics this Sunday.
Just two off the lead at the start of the day, he shot himself out of the tournament early with a bogey at the third and a triple bogey at the fourth. Perks shot 76 to finish in a tie for 17th at 5-under.
The fourth hole also took care of 2001 champion Tiger Woods.
Woods ordered a standing ovation by making a 20-foot eagle putt at the par-5 second. He was just three off the lead at that point. But thats as close as he would get.
From the middle of the fairway at No. 4, just 121 yards from the hole, Woods inexplicably plunked his approach shot into the water, short of the green, and made double bogey.
Another eagle at 16 gave him two on the day, but they didnt outnumber his water balls.
Tiger hit into the middle of the lake at the par-5 11th for a bogey, and came up short and wet at the par-3 17th for a second double. He tied for 11th at 6-under. It is his first finish on tour outside of the top 10 since tying for 28th in the British Open, 12 starts ago.
I could have stayed home and it would have been the same score, said Woods after shooting even-par 72. Instead I came out here and created a few more gray hairs.
Woods, who has won three events in five starts this season, will next vie for an unprecedented third consecutive Masters victory.
Fred Couples, who played alongside Love, couldnt trade punches with his good friend. The two-time winner of this event (1984 and 96) carded a 74 to finish alone in 10th at 7-under. Disappointed in his performance, he left in awe of Loves.
He estimates that he has played some 150 rounds of golf with Love, but never before had he seen him perform the way he did on Sunday ' or anyone else for that matter.
'That was by far the best round I have ever seen played,' said Couples, who teamed with Love to win four consecutive World Cups (1992-95). 'I never thought anyone could shoot 64 in those conditions.'
Early morning rain retired by the afternoon, but the wind only gained strength as the day wore on.
Two back of Haas at the time, Love birdied the 222-yard, par-3 eighth after sticking his tee shot inside of three feet. He then made a five-footer for birdie at 9; a six-foot birdie at 10; a seven-foot birdie at 11, and a 21-footer at 12.
His run ended at the par-3 13th, but by then that was all he needed. He played the back nine in 5-under 31.
'That's as nervous as I've ever been,' he said. 'If that's what the back nine of a major championship feels like with a lead, at least I know how it feels now.'
Harrington could blame his demise on a balky driver. He hit only six of 14 fairways on the day, which contributed greatly to his missing seven greens in regulation.
Haas was far steadier for most of his round. The 49-year-old, seeking his first triumph since the 1993 Texas Open, made birdies on 11 and 13 to get within two of the lead.
At the par-4 15th, however, Haas missed his first fairway since the first hole. He had to pitch out and eventually made bogey. He made another at 16.
Haas was in jeopardy of dropping a shot at 18 as well, but made an 18-foot par save to secure a share of second. Though he didn't win, Haas made enough money to jump to sixth on the season money list, thus qualifying for The Masters for the first time since 2000.
After realizing I wasnt going to win, to finish as high as I could was the object, Haas said. I just think the fact that I keep accomplishing some of my goals here, it makes it a little bit better.
The same holds true for Love.
'I'm back to where I was when I was picked as a guy that had a chance to win Augusta,' he said.
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    First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

    By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 11:30 pm

    It's officially match play time.

    The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play kicks off this week in Austin, where 64 of the top players will square off in a combination of round robin play and single elimination. The top 16 players in the field will serve as top seeds in each of the 16 groups this week, while their round-robin opponents were drawn randomly from three different pods Monday night.

    Here's a look at the four-player groups that will begin play Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Friday:

    Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

    Johnson never trailed en route to victory last year, and he'll start with a match against the Austrian. Kisner has missed three of his last four cuts, while Hadwin enters off three straight top-12 finishes.

    Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

    Rahm will start with a match against a former major winner in Bradley, while a match against fellow Arizona State alum Reavie looms the following day. Rounding out the group is Aphibarnrat, who won in Brunei two weeks ago.

    Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

    This group kicks off with an all-English battle between Fleetwood and Poulter, while Berger and Chappell were both members of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in the fall.

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    Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

    By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

    Dear misguided soul:

    You know who you are.

    You’re “that guy.”

    You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

    You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

    There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

    You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

    Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

    As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

    I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

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    Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

    The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

    What’s a sport to do?

    McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

    I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

    From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

    It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

    Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

    So, really, what is golf to do?

    Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

    While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

    So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

    There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

    This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

    So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.


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    How Faxon became 'The Putting Stroke Whisperer'

    By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

    Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

    Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

    If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

    It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

    Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

    “Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

    Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

    “Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

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    If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

    Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

    “The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

    Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

    A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

    “He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

    For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

    “We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

    Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

    The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

    “Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

    McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

    Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

    “I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

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    Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

    By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

    Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

    “I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

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    Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

    “We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.