Close Maybe But Not the Best

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- At the risk of sounding like an uncommon scold, let's be careful with our superlatives here. This is, after all, golf - not arena football.
 
But first let's add another exclamation point to a season that has roared out of the gate with Ernie Els smoking everybody except Tiger Woods who has scorched almost everybody and anything in his path in 2003 except Davis Love III at The Players Championship.
 
Love authored arguably the best round of the year Sunday with a riveting 64 on Pete Dye's stout Stadium Course at the TPC at Sawgrass. It produced Love's 16th PGA Tour victory. His margin of victory was an uncompromising six shots.
 
Love's final 18 was a clinic - no bogeys; five birdies in a row between the eighth and 12th holes; no missed putts in 15 tries inside of seven feet; 31 on the back side on a cold, windy afternoon that sent scores soaring and fauna scurrying for cover.
 
The only thing lacking was perspective. Don't get me wrong: Love has now captured two Players Championships. He has bagged a major, the 1997 PGA. He has won twice this year and he is one of maybe three or four guys capable of beating Woods at Augusta in two weeks. One day Love will have his own place in golf's Hall of Fame. I will even go so far as to say that he will be more remembered, 10 years down the road, for his steely final round Sunday than for actually winning the tournament itself.
 
But I just can't get on board with the notion that this belonged on the short, short list among the greatest 18 holes in the history of golf. Plenty of people disagree. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called Love's 64, 'one of the most astonishing rounds of golf we've ever seen.'
 
Fred Couples, Love's close friend and playing partner Sunday, said it was 'by far the best round I've ever seen.'
 
Davis Love, said Jay Haas who tied for second with Padraig Harrington, 'just blew us away this week.' That part is hard to argue.
 
And it's hard to argue with John 'Cubby' Burke, Love's caddie, who called Love's 64 'one of the most impressive performances I've ever seen in sports.'
 
Burke knows from good golf rounds. He was on the bag for Brad Faxon at Riviera in 1995 when Faxon fashioned a final round 63 at the PGA Championship that earned Faxon's spot on that year's U.S. Ryder Cup team. Love, Burke said, made only two bad swings Sunday. They were both tee balls. And they were both 3-woods. They occurred on the 12th and 16th holes. Love responded by birdieing and eagling those two holes respectively.
 
But with all due respect for Love, and my respect for his talent and game is immense, this was not the greatest round of golf ever played. Without even researching the subject, three more surpassing examples come to mind: Johnny Miller's 63 on Sunday at Oakmont in 1973 that won the U.S. Open; Jack Nicklaus' 65 on Sunday at Augusta in 1986 that won the Masters and Tom Watson's 65 on Sunday at Turnberry in 1977 that held off playing partner Nicklaus' 66 and won the British Open.
 
Golf is not, I repeat, arena football. It is not a virtual reality television show. It is not a figment of Geraldo Rivera's imagination. It is a rich tapestry of color and history. Yes, it is stodgy in some of its corners. But this is the price the game pays for the ability it has to retain its perspective.
 
We are congratulating Davis Love III today for a monster achievement. His peers are shaking their heads in wonderment over his round. Hours earlier Robert Allenby carded a 65 that Stephen Ames said was more like a 61 or 62 considering the conditions.
 
Love's 64 was one better than Allenby and the best anybody has seen in a long time. It was the best of Love's career.
 
It was not, however, the best round of golf ever played.