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Love's Lost Labor
Ivan Maisel
May 22, 2000
At the Nelson, Davis Love III missed his best chance yet to end a two-year stretch during which he has been unable to close the deal
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May 22, 2000

Love's Lost Labor

At the Nelson, Davis Love III missed his best chance yet to end a two-year stretch during which he has been unable to close the deal

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Davis Love III arrived at the GTE Byron Nelson Classic last week armed with a new attitude, a riff on the "No worries" catchphrase favored by snowboarders and others with earrings and less Polo in their closets than Love. In recent months Love had begun to obsess over winning a tournament, which he has not done since April 1998. He had finished in the top five four times this season without scaring anyone on the final nine. After a last-round 76 at Greensboro that dropped him from a tie for fifth to 21st, Love returned to St. Simons Island, Ca., and put golf aside. "I went home and watched baseball and softball games, went fishing and just goofed around with my family," he says. Love thought about the Ryder Cup last fall, when he contributed 2� points to the American victory. "I was playing for the love of it," he says, "and I think that's what I was missing."

Refreshed, revived and, alas, redux. Love preached patience all week at the Nelson, then tested himself in excruciating fashion. He raced out to a four-stroke lead through two rounds, let everyone back into the tournament with a one-over 71 last Saturday, fought his way into a playoff with fellow Ryder Cuppers Phil Mickelson and Jesper Parnevik after finishing at 11-under 269, then missed a five-foot par putt on the third playoff hole to lose to Parnevik. Let the alarm bells ring. In 47 events since his victory at Hilton Head, S.C., two years ago, Love has 26 top 10s, seven silver medals and no golds. Even Parnevik sounds a note of empathy. "I know Davis wants to win so bad, and he's had many chances," Parnevik said after his second victory of the year and the fourth of his seven-year Tour career. "He's such a great guy and such a great player. It's tough when you want to win that bad. You just have to let it happen."

You can't call it a slump, not when Love has won more than $4 million since the beginning of '99, but you can call it part of a pattern. Love won only one tournament in his first four years on the Tour, 1986 to '89. Over the next four seasons he won seven, including the '92 Players Championship. He wore the label Best Player Never to Have Won a Major for several years before his storybook victory at Winged Foot in the '97 PGA Now this. "I think I've tried too hard too often," he said after his first-round 66, a remarkable score on a day when wind gusts of 38 mph at the TPC at Las Colinas sent the average score there soaring to 73.7 and made club selection a game of chance. "I see where I want to go, and sometimes I get in my own way trying to get there."

Rejuvenation may have been the theme of the 2000 Nelson. Ben Crenshaw made the cut for the first time in 25 events spanning two years. The former Ryder Cup captain hovered over the scoring computer in the locker room for about two hours on Friday afternoon to make sure his score would hold up. One of his Brookline players, Hal Sutton, walked by and clapped him on the shoulder in congratulations. "I don't know whether to order champagne or puke," Crenshaw said. He finished 77th and took home a sweet $7,400.

Tiger Woods played for the first time since the Masters, and you couldn't walk 10 feet without someone telling you that he had won the last five times he had taken at least two weeks off. Once again Woods found a way to surprise everyone: He actually looked rusty. A 40 on the back nine on Thursday left him at 73 and in danger of missing the cut. He struggled back to even par through two rounds, then summoned teacher Butch Harmon from Las Vegas. "If I'm still searching in Germany [where this week he will defend his title in the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open], probably some bad habits will creep in," Woods said. Harmon improved Woods's posture, and after some good range work on Saturday afternoon Woods and his game straightened up on Sunday.

Playing in a twosome with the No. 2-ranked player in the world, David Duval, the No. 1 player holed a sand wedge from 99 yards for an eagle on the par-4 4th hole, turned in 30 and grabbed a share of the lead before finishing with a 63 and in a tie for fourth. Rarely has Woods beamed so after finishing a shot out of a playoff. In his mind the U.S. Open game is on. "Tiger played beautifully," said Duval, who shot a 70 with exactly one one-putt green and came in 20th. Sometimes, Duval said, "You hear, 'This week is going to favor a ball striker.' No, it's not. It's always going to favor a putter."

Last week's field featured 10 of the top 15 players in the world, and it's safe to say that they didn't come for the golf, because Las Colinas and the Cottonwood Valley course across the street, which is used in the first two rounds, are not even among the top five tracks in the Dallas- Fort Worth area. The $4 million purse was one reason they showed up. A better one was that the Salesmanship Club—the Dallas volunteer group that stages the tournament, which far surpasses every other Tour event in charitable proceeds (page G19)—pampers the players beyond compare. At most Tour events the courtesy cars are Buicks. In Dallas they're Cadillacs. All the services of the spa at the Four Seasons Resort and Club on the tournament grounds, including the seven types of massage and the facials, are available at no charge to the players and their wives or girlfriends. This year, for the first time, the Nelson provided free laundry and dry cleaning. "They treat everybody the same: up here," says Tour veteran Jim Carter, holding his hand at forehead level. "It doesn't matter whether you're a rookie or you've won 10 majors. My wife likes it so much that she came out and left our kids with her parents. It's like a little honeymoon."

Actually, they don't treat everyone the same. Past champions stay in the Four Seasons at no charge. Awaiting them in their rooms are two dozen long-stemmed yellow roses, monogrammed terry cloth robes and personalized stationery (stating their name and the year of their victory). Complimentary fruit is delivered daily, and special requests are encouraged. (Woods, the '97 titlist, had a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich sent up each morning.)

In case any player, wife or girlfriend needs anything, two volunteer concierges sit at a table outside the men's and women's locker rooms. The volunteers go to great lengths to make the players feel comfortable. This year they combed the Tour media guide and saw that three golfers- Jim Furyk, Gabe Hjertstedt and Mike Weir—had birthdays last Friday. The tournament ordered birthday cakes, and volunteer Beverly Davis chased Weir, who had missed the cut, all the way to his hotel to deliver his. No one was more surprised to get a cake than Hjertstedt. "I really appreciate the gesture," he said, "but it's not my birthday." Hjertstedt, who is Swedish, filled out the Tour information sheet European-style, meaning that 5/12/71 is actually Dec. 5, 1971.

The pampering really began in 1968, the year Nelson lent his name to the tournament. At his suggestion the Nelson became the first Tour event to provide child care. When asked why, Nelson says, "To get a field! When you're starting out, you have to do something different."

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