Has there ever been a more popular champion? Has there ever been a more dramatic ending?
From midway through the third round, the field had gone by the wayside and it was only Love and Justin Leonard. Those two were going at it alone from that point on, and when it was over, it was Love alone. He won the tournament going away, leaving Leonard to prevail by five shots with a final-round 66 at Winged Foot.
Love shot a 4-under 66 to tie for the lead at the end of the first round, had a 71 to drop one back of Lee Janzen at the halfway point, and was tied with Leonard for the lead at the end of Round 3 with another 66.
But the 33-year-old shot a 32 the front nine Sunday and led by five at the turn. Actually, by the end of five holes, Love was up by four. He had birdied at No. 3 with a 35-foot putt and No. 5 with a 215-yard 4-iron to the heart of the par-5 5th, while Leonard was fitfully thrashing around, making bogey at the second and fourth.
Leonard cut the deficit to three strokes when he birdied the 10th and Love bogeyed the 12th. It was at the next hole, though, that Love applied a tourniquet to the bleeding. At the par-3 13th he threatened to give Leonard one more chance when he missed the green.
Its there that he made the shot which saved the tournament. The pin was set just four paces onto the green, and Love had a dicey lie in the rough. He played a sand wedge, hitting it high and letting it roll. It hit the cup and gently spun out, but easily close enough for a par. Leonard never had another chance.
Father Davis Love, Jr., was a PGA professional his entire adult life. He had come to this very same Winged Foot course in 1960 in a U.S. Open qualifier and succeeded, using a bag made up mostly of woods to protect his badly sliced hand. He died in a plane crash in 1988, but the rainbows said plenty about the man and his son, the PGA champion.
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