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Love Learns There is a Way to Beat Tiger

Maybe Davis Love is getting older. Or maybe he's just gotten tired of losing to Tiger Woods every time the opportunity affords itself. So Tiger has more talent - but he has more than any golfer in the world. Of course, if that thought consumes you, you will never get him. Lord knows that even Tiger Woods is going to fail 50 percent of the time. Either Woods is going to be off a little, or someone is going to have it all working for four straight days.
 
So it was that Love won the Williams World Challenge. Tiger was a step off, Love was at the top of his game. Voila - Love won. How difficult is that to figure out?
 
Love is 36 now, old enough and wise enough not to allow anyone to take the liberties with him that that Tiger has. It started at the end of '96 at Las Vegas, when Woods won for the very first time. It was a playoff win over - guess who? - Mr. Love. Some think that was the first time a little seed of doubt crept into Love's head. And three more times in the next thee years Love would fail in head-to-head meetings between the two, the last time at Bay Hill this year. Hey, maybe he couldn't beat this guy, after all.
 
Love had the courage to speak his feelings. Tiger, he said, was an excellent player, the best on the planet. It was an honest appraisal, one felt by almost every person who has picked up a golf club. But Davis was roundly criticized for his frankness. What does he mean, he can't beat Tiger? Love didn't say it, but a lot of writers made that presumption.
 
'You start wondering, coming down the stretch, what he's going to do, and you lose track of what you are doing,' Love said back in February.
 
I can't imagine who hasn't felt the same way. Woods' record will do this to you. If you are smart, you are going to see where Woods stands as the fourth round goes on. If you aren't smart, you simply get blown away. And there isn't much doubt that, week in and week out, Woods is the only one accorded this type of scrutiny.
 
'We saw that on Monday (at Pebble Beach). Things started going wrong for the guys. And Tiger got better,' said Love. Pebble Beach was where Woods was in a hopeless situation, seven down with seven holes to go, and came back to win by two shots. Ask Matt Gogel, whom Tiger beat, if he knew Tiger was making a move.
 
'I had some rounds with him that I wasn't very happy with, whether it's been Thursday and Friday here last year, or a couple of Saturdays that I haven't played as well as I would have liked,' Davis said. 'Attribute that to whatever you want, but I haven't played well with him.'
 
That's honesty. Unfortunately, it's also called `losing.' It's what happens when 95 percent of these players get in a showdown with Woods. If you beat him, you beat him either because, A, he just had a rare bad week, or B, you come from so far back on Sunday that you have a great score and steal one.
 
Love didn't play with Tiger on Sunday, but the entire back nine, he knew exactly where he was. That was an important confidence-boost, something Love need most surely needed.
 
'You start thinking, `Can I beat him?' and he thrives on that,' Love said after Bay Hill this year when he finished second to Woods - again. 'Coming down the stretch he's not only going to play good, but the other guy is not going to play as well as he can because he's trying too hard to keep up.'
 
Love explained that in the fourth round, if Woods catches you, you start feeling the heat and then you just wilt. One indifferent shot, two indifferent shots, and you are behind. Then you have to bear down trying for birdies and the indifferent shot becomes a bad shot. Instead of the birdie you know to keep in step, you make bogey, 'and you're just not going to win, plain and simple.'
 
Why doesn't it affect Woods in the same way? Because Tiger may be the best ever - he's done it enough that he KNOWS he has the shot that will lead to birdie. He is the world's best driver, beat iron player, and he's one of the top 10 putters. That's the reason.
 
But Love has finally proven to himself that he can beat Tiger, at least SOME of the time. He has been the most articulate of all the golfers in explaining the feelings one has when Woods begins to turn up and heat. I hope he doesn't go another two years before he finally finds how to turn up the heat himself.