It was the Target World Challenge, and it came down to a classic finish between Love and host Tiger Woods. Tiger did what he does better than anyone else ' he went crazy on Sunday in damp, cool weather. But Love had an answer this time ' hang on for a wild ride over the back nine for a win that appeared as safe as money in Fort Knox a couple of hours earlier.
A 45-foot bomb on 16 finally allowed Love to relax a little with a two-stroke lead. If this was supposed to be an exhibition, or just another wrap-up to a rather silly Silly Season, someone forgot to tell Woods. And someone forgot to tell Love, who played the tournament like it was a hot day in July instead of a chilly day just before Christmas.
Sixteen players teed it up, and they were the cream of golfing society. Ernie Els was somewhere sitting in a cozy room with a cup of hot cocoa, but everyone else was there. Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Kenny Perry, Jay Haas, Nick Price, Chris DiMarco, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke obviously they werent all hitting it like they do in the middle of the season, but they dont all hit if great in the prime of the year, either. If it is Sunday at 4 oclock and the competition is on the back nine, its going to be intense. If youre trying to hold off a charging Woods, it doesnt matter if its the Sunday of the Masters or the Sunday of the Target. You either lay down in front of the Woods bulldozer ' which most people would do ' or you resist becoming just another road-kill. Love resisted.
You still get nervous, no matter what the tournament is, said Love. Your prides on the line and there are people watching on TV and people watching in the gallery and theyre pulling for you and pulling against you and you want to win.
The difference between the Masters and the Players Championship is a fine, fine line. But you want to win and thats the main thing.
Did you see a difference in Tigers countenance? I didnt. In Loves? Nope, not really.
Whats his (Woods) motivation to shoot 65 today? asked Love. Its because we want to win. We dont want to lose. If you come and show up, you want to play to win.
Does it feel like the Players Championship or Hilton Head or Denver? Not really, but its still very exciting and you still get just as nervous.
Its like comparing coming down the stretch of the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup. Which one is more intense? I couldnt tell you much difference when I was out there on 17 at the Presidents Cup. I was nervous as a cat.
Which is to say, Sunday was the fifth time Davis has won this year. This win will never have the impact of Loves win at the Players ' and it shouldnt, certainly. But it was still a win against top-flight competition. And it still says something about Davis Love III and his play in 2003.
I think its a continuation of a good year, said Love, who turns 40 next spring.
I made some strides in my game this year - certainly over 2001 and 2002 I think that this year, Ive met my goal of trying to compete every week and be ready to play every week. Even though Ive had two weeks off, I came out here to play to win, not just to show up and collect a little money and go snowboarding. I came to win and I worked hard to win.
The sweaty palms and thumping heartbeat were there on the first tee Thursday, but that really isnt unusual with Love. He has been a professional for 18 years now, but hes always apprehensive when the competition starts. The fact that he confessed the nervousness for this tournament was just one more bit of evidence that he considered the field pretty important.
Im always excited and nervous, Davis admitted. And in a tournament like this, when there are only 16 players, its almost like the first day its more nerve-wracking than a regular tournament, because you know that every birdie moves you up and every bogey its such a tight race all the way. I was nervous the whole week.
Love had a pretty unusual year. He missed three cuts ' including the U.S. Open and the PGA. But he won at Pebble Beach, at the Players Championship, at Hilton Head and at The International. And he finished the regular season strong, finishing in the top six in his last three tournaments before the win.
Can he do better next year? It seems unlikely - four wins is a major-league success story, and there is some awfully tough competition out there for the victories. But he can become an even more consistent player. And he has a solid springboard at the end of 2003 to catapult him into 2004. It might well have started this weekend.
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