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Old 03-30-2003, 06:27 PM   #1
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Davis Woods III

Sad Allenby didn't win, but still, that'll be the best round anyone plays this year.

Love runs away with Players

Final-round 64 earns Love six-shot win

Associated Press

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (March 30) -- Davis Love III provided the charge everyone expected from Tiger Woods and delivered a performance every bit as dominant Sunday in The Players Championship.

Love pulled way with five straight birdies and closed with an 8-under 64 to match the best final round by the winner in the 30-year history of the tournament known as the fifth major.

It was the second time Love has won The Players Championship, and it could be a huge boost to his confidence with the Masters only two weeks away.

Love finished at 17-under 271 and won by six strokes over 49-year-old Jay Haas and Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who shared the lead going into the final round but never stood a chance against such a barrage of birdies.

Love was playing in the group ahead with his best friend on tour, Fred Couples, who also had a 64 when he won The Players Championship seven years ago.

This performance was even better.

Strong, cold winds that shooed away the rain left the TPC at Sawgrass as difficult as it had been all week, but Love made it look like he was on a pitch-and-putt.

Even into the crosswinds, the most challenging in golf, Love blasted his drives down the middle of the fairway and stuck his approach shots close to the hole.

"You can't do that for 18 holes, and he did it," Couples said. "That's the best round I've ever seen played. In these conditions, he did not miss a shot."

Love earned $1.17 million from the richest purse on the PGA Tour.

"It's the best round of golf I've ever played, especially under these circumstances," Love said. "It seemed like every time I looked up, it was going right in the middle. It was an exciting round of golf."

Haas, trying to become the oldest winner of The Players Championship, settled for a consolation prize. He closed with an even-par 72, and his tie for second earned him enough money to move into the top 10 on the money list and qualify for the Masters.

Harrington made back-to-back bogeys early in his round and was never a factor. He also had a 72.

Robert Allenby had a 7-under 65 to finish at 278, a score that looked as though it might be good enough to win, with the wind starting to howl and temperatures dropping. But Love made sure that wasn't the case.

"We got run over today," Haas said.

So did Woods.

He started the final round five strokes behind and was poised to make a charge when he rolled in a 20-footer for eagle on the second hole. The rest of his round was hardly characteristic of someone who had won three of his first four tournaments.

Despite two eagles, Woods hit three balls into the water and wound up with a 72 and a tie for 11th, the first time since the British Open that he failed to finish in the top 10.

"I could have stayed home and it would have been the same score -- even par," Woods said. "Instead, I came out there and created a few more gray hairs."

Love, who won at Pebble Beach earlier this season, now has 16 victories in a career that many believe has not lived up to his talent. Love has struggled with a 54-hole lead, but he proved again to be dangerous coming from behind.

Two strokes behind going into the final round, the key shot was a 12-foot par putt on the third hole that kept him close to Harrington and Haas. Before long every putt started falling, and Love left everyone in his wake.

Allenby was eight strokes behind going into the final round, with 32 players between him and the leaders. He never thought about winning, even as wind pushed away rain clouds and made conditions tougher, even when he slowly piled up the birdies.

As the gusts increased and the temperatures plunged, Allenby at least wanted to give the leaders something to think about. From 202 yards in the fairway, he hit a 3-iron as hard and as low as he could, and it stopped about 8 feet from the hole.

"I picked a target and hit it as low as I could," Allenby said. "I knew if I could hole that putt, it might make a difference."

He finished three hours in front of the leaders, headed off for a big lunch and said he would pray for a lot of wind.

Love, however, turned in a round that was even more spectacular.

It started with his tee shot to 3 feet on the par-3 eighth, which gave him a share of the lead at 11 under, and he never slowed down. He hit a wedge that stopped 4 feet from the hole on No. 9, hit another wedge to 6 feet on No. 10, two-putted the par-5 11th and capped his amazing run with a 20-footer on No. 12.

The final blow came on the par-5 16th, when Love pulled his 3-wood into the trees and onto the pine straw -- almost the same spot from where Woods earlier hit an 8-iron to 15 feet for eagle.

Love was just as good, bending his approach around the trees, over the water and safely onto the green for an eagle to go to 17 under, a big enough cushion that the island-green 17th no longer looked so daunting.

Allenby wound up in a tie for fourth with Jim Furyk (69).

Chad Campbell had an eagle-birdie-par finish to shoot 70 and tie for sixth, assuring him a top-10 spot on the PGA Tour money list and his first trip to the Masters.
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