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Tracking Tiger Woods

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- 'Chase your own potential.'
Davis Love III underlined those four words, even put stars around them, as a reminder that the best way to catch Tiger Woods is to wear blinders.
The strategy came from an offseason session with sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Love jotted down the notes on a yellow legal pad, and he reviewed them the night before the final round of The Players Championship.
He proved to be a quick study.
Love turned in the greatest closing round in the 30-year history of the tournament. In cold, blustery conditions, he shot a bogey-free 64 to make up two strokes on the leaders and eventually win by six.
'We always talk about playing against Tiger down the stretch,' Love said. 'I was chasing my own potential, and I think that's the difference.'
It sounds good on paper, anyway.
The real test comes next week in the Masters - or any other tournament where Love's pursuit puts him on a collision course with Woods on the back nine Sunday.
That never happened on the TPC at Sawgrass.
Love's stiffest competition came from Jay Haas, who had not won in 10 years, and Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who has never won on the PGA Tour.
It wasn't Love's fault that Woods finished one hour in front of him and 11 strokes behind, Woods' largest deficit since the 2001 PGA Championship.
Love didn't need blinders, he needed binoculars.
Would it have been different if Love played the final round with Woods, instead of good friend Fred Couples?
Probably not.
Couples has been around for 20 years and shot a 64 on the final day in 1996 to storm from behind and win The Players Championship. He called Love's round the best he has ever seen anyone play.
'Not just Davis - anybody,' Couples said.
Love said he was building to a moment like this and that he felt comfortable enough to compete with anyone, although he eased off when he saw the next question coming.
'I'm not throwing down challenges and saying, 'I'm back,'' he said. 'But it's nice to see the ball going where you're looking.'
Phil Mickelson called out Woods in a magazine interview by saying he used inferior equipment, words that were intended as a compliment but perceived as a challenge. Woods whipped him the first time they played together, in the final round at Torrey Pines.
Ernie Els challenged Woods with his results.
The Big Easy became the first player in 14 years to win the first two PGA Tour events of the season, then won twice more against good fields in Australia.
He and Woods met for the first time this year on Saturday at Bay Hill under unfavorable conditions - Els had a sore right wrist; Woods had a four-stroke lead.
Woods wound up 10 strokes clear of Els after the third round, and finished 19 shots ahead of him at the end of the tournament.
Love has scars, just like everyone else who has been run over by Woods.
He handed Woods his first PGA Tour victory in 1996 at Las Vegas by missing a 6-foot par putt in a playoff. Woods trounced Love twice during a four-week span in 2000, in the semifinals of Match Play and in the final round at Bay Hill.
'It's going to take somebody to stuff it in his face a couple of times coming down the stretch to knock him off,' Love always used to say.
That was the problem.
Not many can, and even fewer do.
Love acknowledged as much Sunday night, when he talked about the legal pad of notes he carries with him.
Chase your own potential.
'You can add the next four or five words that I didn't write down,' Love said. 'I need to chase myself and not chase anybody. I've got a big enough tail to chase.'
He is going in the right direction, and Love might find some company along the way.
Ernie ElsEls also approached this season with a renewed determination to stop worrying about Woods.
'Instead of trying to improve things, doing things out of the ordinary, trying to chase Tiger down, I just thought, 'Play my game' and see where it goes,' Els said.
Els has been runner-up to Woods six times, more than anyone. He played with him when Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes, the single greatest feat in golf.
Els hit rock bottom a year later and sought help from Belgian psychologist Jos Vanstiphout, whose first piece of advice was to forget about Woods.
'Tiger wasn't the issue,' Vanstiphout said. Els 'was the issue.'
Vanstiphout spoke from the locker room at Bay Hill. Out on the course, Els was falling further and further behind Woods, an ominous sign.
'No man, it's perfect,' he said. 'Whenever Tiger gets into a tournament, pow! There's five times more press, more security, more attention. Ernie has got to learn to live with it, and he will. He's still in the learning process.'