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The Week

Feb. 17, 2003
Feb. 17, 2003

Table of Contents
Feb. 17, 2003

Pro Basketball

The Week

Loving Life
A new attitude and a lift from the Tour's top putter helped Davis
Love III win for the first time in two years

This is an article from the Feb. 17, 2003 issue

Davis Love III enjoys his creature comforts. His home in St.
Simons Island, Ga., includes a stable of 10 horses, a fleet of
waverunners, boats and four-wheelers and a wine cellar. Life is
so good at home that Love admits he has become "a little sloppy,
a little lazy." He was able to rationalize his sloth because of
disk problems that, off and on since 1999, have led to pain up
and down his back and numbness in his fingers. "It's nice when
you have a back problem or a neck problem," says Love, "and you
can say, 'Well, I can't practice today because I have to rest
up.'"

By the end of last year's ho-hum season, Love had only one
victory since the spring of 1998 and, despite his breakthrough at
the '97 PGA Championship, had largely been a nonfactor in the
majors. A popular parlor game among the golf cognoscenti had
become the debate over who has gotten less out of more talent,
Love or his close friend Fred Couples.

This off-season Love finally got off the couch. He invited Bob
Rotella to St. Simons Island and spent two days scribbling the
sports psychologist's observations on yellow legal pads "like my
dad always wrote notes on." Love also showed more diligence about
working out and stretching to keep his back sound.

Love made a solid debut this year at the Hope (12th) and last
week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am said, "I've come
out this year feeling better, feeling stronger and with a new
commitment to working on my attitude and my routines." Love
always says things like this at the start of a new season, but
this time he seemed to mean it, adding, "I'm going to try to get
better rather than holding ground."

Importantly, at Pebble Beach, Love enjoyed the comforts of a home
away from home. He stayed by Pebble's 1st tee at the home of Jim
Griggs, who has been something of a father figure to him since
Love's own father died in 1988. He felt even more comfortable
when he was paired with Brad Faxon for the first three rounds.
Even without working at it, Love has always possessed one of
golf's most awe-inspiring long games, but he is a mechanical,
uneven putter who will be forever haunted by a three-putt on the
72nd hole that cost him the 1996 U.S. Open. Harvey Penick, one of
Love's mentors, liked to say, "Go to dinner with good putters."
Faxon has been a frequent guest at Love's St. Simons compound.

With all that good mojo, it's no wonder Love opened the
tournament with a 72 but rebounded with a 67 at Pebble Beach on
Friday, then another 67 at Spyglass on Saturday to take a
two-stroke lead. Over the last five years Love has gone 0 for 6
in protecting 54hole leads, a measure of his softness. On Sunday
he coughed up the lead by bogeying two of Pebble's easiest holes,
numbers 2 and 3.

But then, uncharacteristically, Love fought back. He birdied
Pebble's epic stretch of ocean-side par4s--the 8th, 9th and 10th.
Tied with Tom Lehman coming to 18, Love hit a monster drive that
left him 224 yards to the pin, and he summoned one of the best
shots of his career, a four-iron that cozied within 10 feet of
the hole. A clutch two-putt birdie brought Love his 15th Tour
victory.

Afterward he said, "I was as nervous as I have ever been playing
a round of golf." That's a good thing, because it shows he really
wants to win. For all the time he has frittered away, Love is
only 38, and he knows it's not too late to enjoy a second prime.
"It's time to start chasing my ability, to see how much I can
improve, see how good I can be," he says.

TRUST ME

There is no better example of the doomed P.R. efforts of the
Champions tour than Fuzzy Zoeller's disqualification from the
Royal Caribbean Classic. By hitting shots during an on-air lesson
with a TV reporter after Round 1, Zoeller violated a rule
prohibiting practice between rounds on a tournament course. On
the bright side, someone was watching.

O. B.

Phil Mickelson sparked a firestorm last week when he was quoted
in Golf Magazine as saying that Tiger Woods's equipment is
"inferior." Nike is fighting back with a whisper campaign
insinuating that other manufacturers are supplying their PGA Tour
players with illegal drivers that exceed USGA-mandated limits for
springlike effect. Nike is also calling for on-site testing at
Tour events to ferret out nonconforming drivers. "It's like
having a speed limit but no police to enforce it," says Kel
Devlin, Nike's director of sports marketing for golf. Testing
rival drivers he says he has procured on Tour driving ranges,
Devlin has seen a spike this year in the number of illegal
drivers. "They are from a variety of manufacturers," he says,
adding that every Nike driver is tested before it is sent to a
Tour player to ensure that it is conforming. (Other clubmakers
also make this claim.) "I would like to think the players aren't
aware of the problem, but given the numbers, it makes you
wonder." The PGA Tour has made it clear that this is the USGA's
turf--the blue coats already spot-check balls--but David Fay, the
executive director of the USGA, tells SI, "I don't think there's
a problem with usage of nonconforming clubs by the best players."
Asked specifically about the USGA's instituting on-site testing,
Fay says, "I don't anticipate setting up shop...and having
players bring their clubs in for checking, like they would at a
lacrosse game. If there's an issue on nonconforming clubs, if
there's buzz that player X is magically hitting increased
yardage, I still think peer pressure would be more effective."

--Mickelson's outgoing 45 on Sunday--he finished with an 80--was
a stroke shy of the worst nine of his career (2000 Players
Championship).

--Billy Casper, the three-time major champion who in recent
years had begun to look like Buddha, dropped 63 pounds in
advance of his Jan. 27 hip replacement surgery, and he's not
done yet. Down to 237 pounds thanks to a high-protein, low-carb
diet, Casper's goal is an even 200. "We're to a point where we
can't take my slacks in much more," he says. "When I lose
another 40 pounds, I'll get some new clothes." That would
include a new green jacket for the winner of the 1970 Masters so
that he can attend the past-champions' dinner at Augusta in
style. "A couple of years ago I had to use Craig Stadler's," he
says.

--The upside to a recession? Tee times at Pebble Beach Golf
Links are available as soon as Feb. 17.

--The winners of the season's first five Tour events have a
combined 54 career victories, the most since 1984, when Tom
Watson, John Mahaffey, Tom Purtzer, Gary Koch and Hale Irwin
took the first five titles and combined for 59 career wins. This
year's first five are also all in their 30s, which last occurred
in '84.

THE POLL
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM

THIS WEEK: Should drivers be tested at PGA Tour events to make
sure the clubs do not exceed legal limits?

LAST POLL: Which name do you prefer for the 50-and-over circuit,
the Senior tour or the Champions tour?

Senior ... 72% Champions ... 28%

--Based on 2,704 responses to our informal survey

Tiger's Bulletin board

TIGER WOODS plans to end his longest absence (101 days) from the
PGA Tour at this week's Buick Invitational outside San Diego. In
his absence some players and officials made comments that are
sure to stick in Tiger's famously long memory.

"I don't miss him. He can take another month off."
--Ernie Els, Jan. 12

"He hates that I can fly it past him now. He has a faster
swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is
the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's
stuck with."
--Phil Mickelson, in the March issue of Golf Magazine

"Tiger in the next few years is going to have more of a
challenge [and] have guys knock on that door a little more
often."
--Rocco Mediate, Jan. 21

"I'm not going to give him more credit than he deserves. He's
a wonderful player, but that's it for me."
--Sergio Garcia, Jan. 7

"He wins all these tournaments, and it seems as if he's
better than anyone else. I'd like to find out for myself."
--Andy Miller, Jan. 15

"Tiger has had a great run, and everything comes to some sort
of stop sooner or later. The guys are catching up."
--Vijay Singh, Feb. 5

"If you look where [Woods] hasn't played in the last five
years, television ratings have been up on average and charitable
donations are up."
--Tim Finchem, Feb. 5

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT BECK [INSIDE COVER] Tough Love A Fit and Feisty Davis Love III Rules at Pebble Beach G9COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK TROUBLE SHOOTER Love, the 54-hole leader, has had difficultyclosing but this time cashed in.COLOR PHOTO: JOEY TERRILL (CASPER) LOSING IT Casper, 63 pounds lighter, hopes to shed 37 more.COLOR PHOTO: MEL LEVINE (BULLETIN BOARD)TWO COLOR PHOTOS: FRED VUICH (ELS, GARCiA)COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (MICKELSON)COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG (MEDIATE)COLOR PHOTO: ERIC RISBERG/AP (MILLER)COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (SINGH)COLOR PHOTO: PAT SULLIVAN/AP (FINCHEM)