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Love Exciting and New Again

The transformation had been months, if not years, in the making, but it was a single round that ultimately set the wheels of redemption in motion. A second-round 73 at the Valero Texas Open sent Davis Love III back to Sea Island, Ga., for the weekend. But the 44 year-old didnt dash for the comfortable confines of his island home or his hunting cabin or the slopes of Sun Valley.
Instead, he went back to work. Less than 24 hours after posting his 3-over par card in San Antonio, Love settled into a spot on the Frederica Golf Club practice range at Sea Island with nothing but a collection of wedges and a plan as clear as the crisp ocean air.
Davis Love III
Love put together an impressive late-season rally during the Fall Series. (Getty Images)

Id never seen him show up with just his wedges, said Mac Barnhardt, Loves longtime friend and manager with Crown Sports. He knew that if he improved his wedge game everything else would follow.
So the longest player of his ' and the better part of the next ' generation went to the small ball. The result was Tour victory No. 20 and, with respectful apologies to Erik Compton, the most inspiring comeback of the season, non-transplant division.
That Love sealed Tour tilt No. 20 at the Childrens Miracle Network Classic with a pair of buzzer-beating wedge shots only made all that work on the Frederica practice range that much worthwhile. And that he did it a little more than a year after wrenching his ankle and undergoing potentially career-ending surgery is a testament to his drive.
As soon as they give us a ball and club you want to hit it, Love said. I was really doubtful (I could come back) until they got me back out onto the course and started letting me go.
In late September, Love was summoned to the Tour Championship to accept the Payne Stewart Award, which is given to the player who shared Stewarts respect for the traditions of the game. But his day at the podium should have come some 13 weeks later at another dias, on another coast.
Dudley Hart, who was named the Tours Comeback Player of the Year on Dec. 16, is one of the circuits most likeable players. He performed brilliantly in 2008 (six top-10s and a runner-up finish at the BMW Championship) after missing most of 2007 to be at home with his ailing wife. But its hard to imagine a player who rallied from the physical depths that Love had reached.
It was in late September of 2007 when Love stepped in a hole while playing golf in Georgia and ruptured all the lateral ligaments in his left ankle. Surgery, a languid recovery and doubt followed.
We had a rule, no one had ever come back too late from an injury, Barnhardt said.
Love, already one of the Tours most ardent gym rats, added another trainer to his stable and intensified his rehab work.
The results were mixed for much of 2008. Love qualified for the U.S. and British Opens, a pair of marathons that tested his rebuilt ankle more than his retooled game, and he finished tied for 19th at Royal Birkdale. But there were also plenty of missed cuts (five) and pedestrian finishes outside the top 50 (five).
Like Justin Leonard in 2007, Love viewed the Fall Series as a chance to set the stage for 2009. He tied for third, his best finish since 2006, finished tied for sixth in Las Vegas and was under par for 12 of his final 14 rounds to become just the fourth active player to reach the 20-victory club.
People were shocked that heres a guy with his exempt status out here playing six weeks in a row (in the fall), Love said. I gained some confidence. Now Im ready to go for the next year and years after.
But ready is not to be mistaken for appeased. True to form, Love has spent the weeks since his Disney breakthrough preparing for 2009. Late in the day on Dec. 16, not long after the Tour had named Hart the seasons most inspiring reclamation project, Love was back on a Sea Island practice range. This time he was testing new 3-woods and honing that reinvigorated wedge game.
Truth is, Love may have deserved to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award but, after 20-plus years on tour, he has little use for ceremonial accolades. He will begin 2009 with a single minded focus ' win.
He did the same thing at the end of 2002, Barnhardt said. He found motivation in that injury. Hes free and has it all behind him and hes ready to let loose.