2003: PGA Tour - Tough Love
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
By Dave Seanor
Pebble Beach, Calif.
At the end of four splendid days on the Monterey Peninsula, it came to this: A shootout between two grizzled veterans with something to prove.
Forget the six-tournament streak of foreign domination. Forget the 18 first-time winners of 2002. Forget Ernie; forget Vijay; forget Tiger.
At ages 38 and 43, respectively, Davis Love III and Tom Lehman still have what it takes. Their rousing 1-2 finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am served notice.
Love, regarded by detractors as something of a marshmallow, was winless in 2002. Six top 10s in 26 starts had left him 21st in earnings – the second time he’d been out of the top 12 in 12 years.
Love admitted he had become content with “holding ground” the last couple of seasons. He acknowledged being “a little sloppy, a little lazy,” using lingering injuries as an excuse not to bear down during practice sessions.
“It’s nice when you have a back problem or a neck problem or whatever it is, and you can say ‘Well, I can’t practice today because I have to rest up,’ ” said Love. “I think I got in the habit of just playing tournaments and not really preparing. That’s why I was not in Hawaii or Phoenix, because I wasn’t ready to play yet.”
He was ready to go at the AT&T, posting rounds of 72 at Poppy Hills, 67 at Pebble Beach, 67 at Spyglass Hill and a closing 68 at Pebble for a 14-under-par 274 total and a one-shot victory over the hard-charging Lehman.
Three months ago, Lehman couldn’t hide his disgust when his ’02 season ended with a tie for 66th at the Walt Disney World Golf Classic. He had notched but three top 10s in 22 events and finished 74th on the money list – his worst showing in a decade.
Over the break, he studied video of himself and worked out the kinks. He returned to using a conventional-length putter, but the results were so bad in his first three starts this year that he reinstated his old broom-handle STX model for the AT&T.
Rededication has paid off for both.
“It felt good to get out there in the heat of the battle and actually play well again,” said Lehman, a model of consistency during his 68-70-70-67 week.
Love’s second victory at the AT&T was all about attitude and resiliency.
“I’ve come out this year feeling better, feeling stronger and with a new commitment to working on my attitude, my routines, my off-course mental preparation,” he said.
Love demonstrated his mental toughness early and often. He opened the tournament Thursday with an eagle at Poppy Hills’ par-5 10th, and completed that nine in 34. He butchered three of the next six holes in 5 over par, including a triple bogey at the par-3 second.
“Three over par, with three to go the first day at Poppy, I could have really thrown the towel in,” Love said.
Instead, he made three birdies in a row to salvage the round – and the tournament.
Similarly, after hitting 1-irons into bunkers and making bogeys at the second and third holes Sunday, Love – who had entered the final round with a two-shot lead – suddenly found himself trailing Mike Weir and Rod Pampling by a shot.
After falling another stroke behind when Weir holed a 15-foot birdie at No. 5, Love got back on track with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 sixth, igniting a six-birdie run over eight holes. That included a fortuitous kick – literally and figuratively – at the par-3 12th.
Aiming at a pin just three paces off the left fringe, Love pulled his tee shot. The ball bounced once, then hit the foot of a photographer who was trying to duck out of harm’s way. The rebound came to rest 4 feet from the cup. “A Tiger bounce!” exclaimed Love’s caddie, John “Cubby” Burke, as they looked on from the tee.
Love took a two-shot lead when he birdied the 13th. But he still had to prove himself one more time.
Moments after Love bogeyed No. 16, Lehman caught him at 13 under by coaxing in a downhill 6-footer for birdie at the 17th. Knowing he might need eagle to win outright, Love bombed a colossal drive on the final hole.
Up ahead, Lehman had come up short of the green with his 5-wood second shot. He lobbed to 6 feet, but grazed the edge of the cup with his birdie try.
It was left to Love to answer the bell. His 4-iron traveled 230 yards, dead on line, and two putts from 10 feet sealed the deal.
“I feel very relieved to have finished off what was a very sketchy tournament for me,” said Love. “I got some good breaks and I holed a lot of putts and I really hung in there. It seems like the better your attitude is, sometimes the better the bounces you get.
“Or maybe the bad ones don’t seem quite so bad.”