Golf has many rules, and then it has commandments. Many of the latter apply to Tiger Woods. Don’t keep missing short putts in a match against Woods. Don’t let a struggling Woods off the hook. And, difficult as it may be, don’t let an out-of-line heckler bother you, especially when playing Woods. Unfortunate for Davis Love III, he did.
Tough day for commandments.
As a result, a hot-putting Woods won his second consecutive World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play title and his 40th PGA Tour trophy. The payoff was $1.2 million, raising the 28-year-old’s portfolio to untold multimillions. His great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren won’t have to worry about Social Security.
Before the third nine in the 3-and-2 loss in the 36-hole final, Love had played beautifully while mowing down the toughest part of the 64-man bracket. He had defeated Fred Couples, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Darren Clarke over the previous two days. He saved par in all 10 attempts against Mickelson, then beat Clarke in 21 holes after trailing 2 down through 16.
But against Woods – golf’s best whether the format is match, medal, or bouncing a ball off a wedge – Love couldn’t handle La Costa Resort and Spa’s greens (eight misses from 10 feet and in), its par 5s (one birdie out of seven) and its most notorious spectator (a twentysomething guy wearing a Nike “TW” cap and two earrings who yelled “No Love!” a handful of times).
“Davis was in his rhythm and that kind of threw him off,” Woods said of the heckling.
And so Love was unable to hold off a scrambling Woods. Love led 2 up on the 18th tee but walked off the green on the 27th hole 3 down and never got closer. Woods won five of those 10 holes, two with pars, including at the 20th hole when the heckler first piped up. Love missed the green on that par 3 and missed a 10-foot par putt, losing his 1-up edge.
“You know you’re going to have fans against you, but when they’re heckling against you, it becomes very difficult to concentrate,” Love said. “I wasn’t going to play anymore until somebody got kicked out because he had already cost me a hole. I mean, I hit awful shots at 2 (20th hole). He was timing it just right…I wasn’t going to put up with it…The fans shouldn’t have an impact on the game, and for some reason they’re starting to think they can.”
Woods’ correction of his alignment – while hitting 30 range balls during the break between rounds – also had an impact. Woods hit only seven of 14 fairways on the first 18, to Love’s 12, but found eight of 12 in the second round. Love hit five more greens in regulation and four more fairways than Woods overall, but he made no birdies and won no holes on the last 18.
“I felt I should have been 2 or 3 up (after 18),” said third-seeded Love, now 32-67-8 against Woods in common Tour events since Woods turned pro. “I just let him get away when I had him. It’s unfortunate because I don’t think in a round of golf, or two rounds as it was today, I’ve ever driven it in such a perfect position on every hole and been swinging that good and not pulled it off.”
Woods, meanwhile, putted as if it were 2000, making just about every crucial putt he faced. He converted eight putts from 4 to 17 feet. That included a 12-footer for birdie on the 25th hole for his first lead of the day. He won the next with a 4-foot birdie and the ninth with a two-putt par and went 3 up to stay.
“In order to win matches you’ve got to putt well,” Woods said after making four putts of at least 11 feet in a 2-and-1 semifinal victory over Stephen Leaney. “That’s what it boils down to…The good old flat stick is a great equalizer.”
Which brings us to more commandments. Don’t say Woods is in a slump, regardless of his 0-6 major streak. Don’t anoint someone as his rival. Don’t expect his opponents to play their best, for his first five here didn’t break par. And don’t doubt him, even if he’s 1 down with two to play, as he was in the first round against John Rollins before a birdie-birdie comeback.
Rollins, the 64th-seeded player, wasn’t doubting. In the 17th fairway, Rollins let his caddie know he was expecting the worst. “He’s due any minute to just hit one of his towering shots that sit right by the flag,” Rollins said of the brief conversation, “and it just so happens that (Woods) must have heard me.”
It’s to the point you’d think WGC stands for Woods Gonna Close.
He improved his record in the WGC-Match Play to an improbable 20-3, including 12 consecutive match victories. Call it a continuation of an amateur career that ended with six consecutive U.S. Golf Association titles through match play. And he has now won eight of his 14 starts in official-money WGC events. His haul of $9.585 million in those 14 WGCs alone would put him 46th in PGA Tour career earnings.
Credit the so-called Earl Effect for some of his match success. In his late pre-teens, the son asked for his father’s counsel on match play. Enter the experience of Green Beret and POW training. Enter four months of mind games. In the middle of his son’s backswing, Earl Woods would drop clubs, yell, or throw six balls in front of him. At address, the kid would be told not to hit the ball out of bounds or in water. “I’d get him to the breaking point, then back off,” the father once told Golfweek. “It was like tempering steel. Finally one day I did all these things and he smiled and didn’t react. I said, ‘Son, the training is over. And I’ll make you a promise: You’ll never run into anyone as mentally tough as you.’ It’s paid off, big-time.”
After beating Love, Woods said the best way to handle an annoying spectator is to “don’t ever show that it does annoy you. Just go ahead and move on and keep playing…That’s the hard part.”
It was hard for Love, who has been bothered by spectators a few other times, including during a runner-up finish to Jerry Kelly at the 2002 Western Open. This time a man yelled “No Love!” a few times, on at least the 20th and 23rd holes. Before teeing off on the 23rd hole, Love approached that section of the gallery and said, “We’re not leaving until somebody says who it was.” After an elderly woman identified the man, security whisked him away, though he was later seen on the grounds.
“Just another one of those fans that doesn’t respect the game,” Love said. “I don’t care if I win or lose, you’ve got to respect the game and you’ve got to respect the players. . . . But I don’t think it’s just golf. I think it’s our whole society. They don’t respect what other people do, don’t respect your elders, don’t respect other people’s space, don’t respect traditions or etiquette or customs.”
Love said fans asked him five times during the week if he wanted a beer while he walked from one hole to the next.
“I don’t drink beer when I’m out at dinner, like last night,” Love said. “I don’t need a beer when I just birdied a hole or when I just bogeyed a hole. People just assume that we’re out here screwing around, and we’re not screwing around, we’re playing hard…It’s hard work, and I don’t come into your office and screw you up. Don’t come in my office and screw me up.