What a Love-ly Performance

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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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