For Love Fools Gold at the End of a Rainbow

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U.S. OpenMAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Maybe it was fool's gold Davis Love III found at the end of that rainbow.
 
It was nine years ago at Winged Foot when Love captured the PGA Championship in perhaps the finest performance at a major in 1997. He had three rounds of 66, including Sunday, on a punishing golf course. And when he closed a five-shot victory with a birdie on the 18th hole, a majestic rainbow stretched across the skies.
 
Some saw that as a sign that his father -- a teaching pro killed in a 1988 plane crash -- was watching over him.
 
Even now, mention 'Winged Foot' and 'Love' in the same sentence and the rainbow comes to mind, perhaps because happy memories of Love in the majors are hard to find.
 
'I'm not a rainbow guy,' Love said. 'I painted a rainbow on the back of my motorcycle after I won and I thought, 'I don't know if I want to ride around with a rainbow on the back of my motorcycle.' But it certainly makes me think of my dad when I see a rainbow, and people all across the United States have gotten in touch with me and talked to me about their rainbow stories.
 
'It has meant a lot to me personally, emotionally, and obviously on the golf course.'
 
But most people figured that PGA victory would be a springboard to many more majors. Love was 0-for-38 in the majors when he arrived at Winged Foot that year, and he is 0-for-33 in the majors since he left.
 
That has raised more questions about what he hasn't achieved than what he has.
 
'I would say underachiever,' John Cook said when asked to measure Love's career. 'I would have thought as good a player as he is, as many tournaments as he's won, that he would have contended a lot more often. It's almost like he really hasn't been a factor a lot of time. It's kind of unfortunate. A guy that talented deserves more than that.'
 
Love's career has hardly been a bust.
 
His 18 victories on the PGA TOUR fall only behind Tiger Woods (48), Phil Mickelson (29) and Vijay Singh (29) among his contemporaries. And while Love has only one major, he did capture The Players Championship twice.
 
Majors are never easy to win, and Love hit his stride about the time Woods arrived, making it even tougher. But more surprising than the lack of trophies is the absence of his name on the leaderboard Sunday in the majors.
 
'That is hard to believe,' Paul Azinger said. 'Davis might not have lived up to everyone else's expectations, but I think he's happy with who he is, and I think he's going into the Hall of Fame.'
 
Love has had only two good chances to win another major since Winged Foot. He was one shot behind going into the last round of the 2003 British Open, missed two good birdie chances over the final holes and finished two behind Ben Curtis. Last year at Baltusrol in the PGA, he was tied with Mickelson for the 54-hole lead, then played his first five holes in 4 over par and never caught up.
 
It hasn't been a whole lot better on the PGA Tour.
 
He has had stretches of 61 and 44 tournaments without winning, and now is on an 0-for-70 streak since his last PGA Tour victory at the International in 2003. And the majors seem to become more elusive, especially with age (42) and health (neck and back).
 
'The second one is just as hard,' Love once said about major victories. 'That's why when you see a guy who has three or four or five of them, he's looked upon a little bit differently than the rest of the players. One major puts you in the club, but it's just in the club. Four or five of them puts you in superstar status.'
 
Where does that leave Love?
 
When another winless season ended in 2004, Love began to reassess his career. He was two victories away -- and still is -- from lifetime status on the PGA Tour by getting 20 victories. He figured he needed at least another major to be a lock for the Hall of Fame.
 
'I have a chance to have a great career,' he said that day. 'The next five or six years, you either say, 'OK, I've done it,' or you realize you haven't. Right now, I've had a really, really nice career.'
 
Injuries have played a role. Love has been battling back and neck problems the last couple of years, which at times have kept him from playing his best, and has caused him to search for a schedule that allows him to get the most out of his game.
 
But there is a glaring perception he is soft. He had a chance to bury Woods early in their final match at the Match Play Championship, and Woods made him pay. Against Geoff Ogilvy in the final match this year, Love had him on the ropes early until missing a 3-foot par putt that swung momentum in Ogilvy's favor.
 
Love has been a runner-up 29 times on the PGA Tour. That usually indicates that a guy has given himself a load of chances. Given his talent, it invites whispers that he doesn't have what it takes to close the deal.
 
He has tumbled to No. 22 in the world ranking. He has slipped to 10th in the U.S. standings for the Ryder Cup, and might need to rely on being a captain's pick for the first time. He is reaching that stage of his career where talent alone isn't enough.
 
Perhaps he can rely on memories this week.
 
Love was at Winged Foot on Tuesday with thick rough under his feet and sunny skies over his head. The forecast is for most sunny conditions on the weekend, which is just as well. Love is looking for a trophy, not a rainbow.
 
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