This was still at a time when a PGA Tour win would get an invitation to the Masters ' any win the preceding 12 months. Love had finished 33rd on the money list the preceding year in 1994, but didn't record a victory.
To further complicate his dilemma, Love would have qualified after 1994 had it not been for a case of personal honesty. Playing in the 94 Western Open, he suffered a two-stroke penalty in the second round ' and missed the cut by one stroke. If he had made that cut, he would have won enough money at years end to earn a berth in the Masters.
I moved my coin over on the green and didnt put it back, he said in 95 before he won in New Orleans.
He realized the error on the next green. I was 90 percent sure I didnt move it back, he said. Its just the rules. I dont consider breaking them. What if I made the cut, made $5,000, and got in the Masters? What if I won the Masters and cheated my way to win the Masters?
So it was against this backdrop that Love was down to his last chance ' the Freeport McMoRan ' the week before Augusta. He had one last chance to make the Masters field, and that chance was ' he had to win. No second place, no third ' it was win right here or forget about it.
Love hovered around the lead on the first two days, when he shot 68 and 69. And he took it outright on Saturday when he fired a 66, now owning a one-stroke advantage over Mike Standly and Steve Jones.
Standly and Jones quickly went by the wayside as the fourth round began on Sunday. But in their place a new challenger emerged, and this was almost a homeboy. Mike Heinen, a bayou boy from Louisiana, emerged to birdie the first four holes before Love had barely started. He began the day five strokes behind, but by the time he eagled No. 11 with a chip-in at the par-5, he led by two shots.
Love was behind, playing No. 7 ' which he promptly bogeyed. Augusta was looking farther and farther away. But wait ' maybe Heinens eagle was a good thing, he said.
The best thing that happened today was Mike making eagle, said Love. It spurred me on. It got me grinding, trying to catch up.
Dial up one streak ' Love birdied four of the next six holes. He got back into a tie with Heinen, who came to the 18th hole while Love was back on No. 15.
And then Heinen splashed down into the water on 18, incurring a double bogey and putting Love two strokes ahead. Love could almost see the gates of Magnolia Lane swinging wide open for him.
But on No. 17, a par-3, Love hit his tee shot into a bunker and made bogey. That meant he would go to No. 18 with only a one-shot lead. After his perfect drive, however, Davis looked like a winner all over.
That is, until his 8-iron approach shot plunked down into a front bunker. And his splash-out ended up 15 feet past the pin.
Love carefully stroked the putt, only to watch it die just to the side of the cup.
I honestly thought Id make that putt on 18 to make a great finish, said Love. I dont know what kept it out ' fate, maybe.
So now it was a playoff between two of the most likeable men of the golf course ' the man who was wanting so badly to go to the Masters, and the man from Louisiana.
They parred the first hole. And the second was so similar to an afternoon in 2003 when he won a playoff at the MCI Heritage, it was positively eerie.
He hit a 6-iron, which is what he would hit on the winning playoff hole against Woody Austin in 2003. Love was playing the par-3 17th at English Turn, and at Harbour Town in 2003, it was his approach into 18 which was a 6-iron.
The ball pitched at English Turn and stopped just three feet from the pin. At Harbour Town, the ball stuck the pin and rolled three feet away.
And at both, Love would stroke his putt right in the heart. Hello, Augusta!
Funny thing, Love has been in nine playoffs in his PGA Tour career. And he has won just two ' at New Orleans in 1995 and at Harbour Town in 2003.
Today, I kept telling myself, Youre going to win the tournament. Youre going to the Masters, Love said.
And, by golly, he did!