Love Returns After 4-Month Hiatus

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2007 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmPEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Pebble Beach is one of three tournaments Davis Love III has never missed since his rookie season in 1986, and he has rarely been this excited to be back on the Monterey Peninsula.
 
He is staying with Jim Griggs, who lives between the first tee and the driving range, and who has been like a second father to Love. He is playing with Joey Sindelar, as gregarious as they come, competing on the PGA TOUR for the last time before turning 50 and the senior tour. The glorious color scheme of turquoise surf, green turf and blue skies remind him why he loves this place so much.
 
And best of all, Love is soaking it all in without a limp.
 
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am will be his first tournament since Love missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship the first week of September. A few weeks later, he was jogging down a slope from the first tee during a casual round when he stepped in a grass-covered hole and shredded ligaments on the outside of his ankle.
 
The doctor who performed the Oct. 2 operation told Love it would be four months before he could play, and probably a month after that before he could go play in a tournament.
 
'Playing a practice round at Pebble was a major accomplishment,' Love said Wednesday. 'It was probably the most fun practice round I've played in a long, long time, to be back out on tour and playing a PGA TOUR golf course. This place has been really good to me, and obviously, it's really good to play at Pebble Beach and in this tournament.
 
'So I'm excited to be here, to say the least.'
 
Love followed his therapy plan religiously and played his first 18 holes with his doctor, who was astounded to see Love at full strength a month ahead of schedule. This is one time no one can accuse Love of being an underachiever.
 
He almost entered the FBR Open last week outside Phoenix. He thinks he was strong enough to play the Sony Open last month. But the plan was always Pebble Beach, a place where he could hit the ground running no matter how soggy the ground might be.
 
'The goal was not to just play,' Love said. 'The goal was to come back ready to play and ready to compete. It's as good as I've ever felt, and this four-month break has been a blessing.'
 
Love has no time to waste now.
 
The four-month break, preceded by eight months of lackluster play and nagging back injuries, has caused him to plunge to No. 78 in the world ranking, the lowest he has been in more than two decades.
 
Love likely needs to finish among the top three at Pebble to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship, keeping alive his streak of being eligible for every World Golf Championship since the series began in 1999.
 
He has the next two months to either win a tournament or do well enough to get back into the top 50 and qualify for the Masters. Love has played in 70 consecutive majors, the longest streak among active players.
 
Love has not played on a U.S. team since the '05 Presidents Cup, and he doesn't want to miss another.
 
'I haven't played since September, so I've got to play a tournament first and see how it goes,' he said. 'The best thing to do is what I've done for the last four months -- not try to analyze the number, not try to figure out what it takes to get in which tournament. Just play well each tournament and I'll play where they let me play.'
 
Love isn't the only player making a return to the PGA TOUR when the AT&T begins Thursday on three courses.
 
Greg Norman, who turns 53 on Sunday, has not played a regular TOUR event since the International in 2006. Even at the height of his powers, the Shark stopped coming to the Pebble Beach National Pro-am in 1992. But after a few phone calls, he managed to get a spot for him and his 22-year-old son Gregory, the best father-son outing in golf.
 
'He's the one who asked me if we could get in,' Norman said. 'I said, 'Gregory, I don't know if I can get in, let alone get both of us in.' All I did was made a couple of phone calls, and fortunately, we're here. So from my perspective, I'm probably going to be more nervous playing with him than he will be playing with me.'
 
The defending champion is Phil Mickelson, who tied the 72-hole scoring record of 268 last year with an awesome display of driving. Mickelson is coming off a playoff loss last week in Phoenix to J.B. Holmes, which is a better start than he had last year. A victory would make him the first repeat winner since Mark O'Meara in 1990, and it would be his fourth title at Pebble Beach.
 
Love has won twice, and he tied for fourth a year ago.
 
That turned out to be his best finish of the year, as Love struggled with back injuries and was falling into a rut. That can happen when you've been on TOUR for 22 years, have accumulated 19 victories and earned over $35 million.
 
In some ways, the ankle injury was a blessing.
 
'It was a good time to have a break,' he said. 'I could have not stepped in that hole, played five tournaments in the fall and protected my top-50 ranking and just kind of skated through again. This has challenged me to get better, and now I'll have to work my way back up, which is not a bad thing.'
 
Divots:
AT&T, the title sponsor at Pebble Beach since 1986, has extended its contract through 2014, two years beyond the PGA TOUR's television contract. ... The other tournaments Davis Love III has never missed are The Players Championship and the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head. ... Kevin Streelman keeps running in fast company. Two weeks after the PGA TOUR rookie played with Tiger Woods on the weekend at Torrey Pines, he is paired with actor Chris O'Donnell at Pebble Beach.
 
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