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Love clears a major hurdle Final putt in five-shot PGA runaway falls in at end of a rainbow

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- They will talk about the way Davis Love III played yesterday to win the 79th PGA Championship at Winged Foot, the way he built his lead over Justin Leonard early and held onto it better than he did his emotions.

They will talk about the way he celebrated the first major championship of his 12-year career, the tears and hugs and memories he shared with his family. But when they recall the scene at the 18th hole early last night, they will also talk about something else.

The rainbow.

It came out as Love took his victory walk with his brother and caddie, Mark, the skies having cleared from a downpour that had ended moments earlier. And Love then made one last birdie putt, one that fell in as the end of the rainbow pointed at the hole, for a 4-under-par 66, a four-round score of 11-under 269 and a resounding five-shot win over the reigning British Open champion.

Love didn't want to look to the heavens, but he took it as a sign from his late father.

"It happened in '92, when I won [The Players Championship], the sun came out on the last hole," Love recalled later, still choking on his words. "And there's something to it."

Davis Love Jr., one of the most respected golf teachers in the country and a disciple of the late Harvey Penick, was killed in a plane crash in 1988. But his thoughts and teachings have remained with the oldest of his two sons, particularly something he once wrote in a book while he was growing up in Georgia.

"He said, 'Follow your dreams and enjoy the trip,' " said Love, "and I think I did this week."

It wasn't just the monetary value of the victory, a first-place check of $470,000. Nor was it the fact that Love secured his place on this year's Ryder Cup team. This was more meaningful, given his father's stature in the PGA community and the fact that he played in this tournament a number of times as well as here in the 1974 U.S. Open.

"As I said at 18, to win this championship is a great thrill," said Love, 33. "Son of a PGA member, who'd ever thought? And to win at Winged Foot really means a lot to me. I mean this is a great golf course, a great tradition, great champions. It's an incredible group to be put with."

There was a time when many, including Love, wondered why he had not won a major. Or if he ever would. In fact, he didn't even play well in golf's Grand Slam events until finishing second in the 1995 Masters. He was considered for a time the best player never to have won a major.

The victory for Love came a little more than a year after he lost the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, blowing a one-shot lead with two holes to play with two bogeys, including three-puttting the final green from 20 feet away. It was the closest he had ever come.

"When I first came out, I thought the majors would be the easiest thing to win," he said. "I never knew how hard mentally it was. It's nice to have been in that category, but it's nice to get out of it just so I don't have to hear that."

Said Leonard, who finished second after a 1-over 71: "I think he's obviously had a lot of pressure on him for four or five years about being one of the best players not to have won a major. I think he's feeling more joy than relief for winning on such a great golf course in the fashion he did."

Asked about finishing second and losing a chance to become the first American since Tom Watson in 1982 to win back-to-back majors, the 25-year-old Texan said, "Obviously, I'm disappointed. happy for Davis and his family. I would love to be in a different position but at the same time I was glad that I was with him and was there to watch."

Leonard seemed almost a spectator to Love's 11th career victory. Tied at 7-under-par and seven shots clear of the field going into the final round, Love had three birdies on the first eight holes and built his lead to five when Leonard played the front nine in 2-over par.

It was his bogey on the par-5 12th that might have helped Love the most.

"I think it got me a little more focused and back into it," he said. "Literally I was choking up a lot of times out there. Every time I thought about winning, every time I thought about what it would mean. Every time if I was about three or four shots ahead, I had to remind myself to keep playing the game."

Leading by only three shots after his own bogey and Leonard's birdie on the par-5 12th hole, Love pushed his tee shot on the par-3 13th over the green and into the rough. He had a good lie, and nearly holed out from about 30 feet, his ball hitting the cup. He saved par and Leonard missed a 10-footer for birdie.

"I think it saved the tournament," Love said. "That gave me the confidence that I could handle anything."

His ricocheting emotions were the only thing Love couldn't handle. All day long, thoughts of his late father entered his mind. His brother, Mark, who has caddied for Love the past four years, tried to change the subject. By the time they reached 18, it was difficult for both of them.

"On the 18th fairway, he said to me, 'Help me stay in there for another five minutes,' " Mark Love said last night in the locker room. "We tried to do it, but it was very hard."

The last few holes had been a blur for Love, and not because the heavy rain might have obscured his vision. Love barely remembered the last putt, only to say that he wasn't trying to make it. When it fell, so did the tears. They streamed down Love's face as he hugged his brother, his wife Robin and his mother.

Asked what his father would have told him, Love choked on his words.

"I think he would have said something to the effect that this was my turn and I was overdue and that there's greater things to come," Love said. "I think he always looked for the future. He would say, 'All right, let's time it from here. Let's take the next step.' I think he'd be extremely proud of me, especially because it's the PGA Championship."

As she was leaving Winged Foot last night, Penta Love was asked what her son's victory meant.

"I think it means a lot for Davis and the family," she said. "He's going to take his game to another level. He finally won a big one."

She had seen the rainbow, too.

"That rainbow is an indication that somebody was looking down on Davis," she said.

Nobody could argue.

79th PGA

The winner

Davis Love III ..... 66269

and selected followers

Justin Leonard ..... 71274

Jeff Maggert ....... 65276

Lee Janzen ......... 69279

Tom Kite ........... 70280

Scott Hoch ......... 70281

Jim Furyk .......... 68281

Tom Lehman ......... 70283

Nick Price ......... 70284

Tommy Tolles ....... 66284

Mark O'Meara ....... 67284

David Duval ........ 73284

Greg Norman ........ 71284

John Daly .......... 70286

Fred Couples ....... 75286

Tiger Woods ........ 75286

Phil Mickelson ..... 75286

Ernie Els .......... 70290

Complete scores, Page 7C

Ryder Cup

Final standings

Tom Kite, the U.S. captain, will announce his two additional choices at 8 a.m. today. The Ryder Cup will be contested at Valderrama Golf Club in Cadiz, Spain, on Sept. 26-28.

Pos.Player .......... Points

1. Tiger Woods ...... 1,185.000

2. Justin Leonard ... 1,068.500

3. Tom Lehman ....... 1,022.953

4. Davis Love III ..... 957.166

5. Jim Furyk .......... 947.500

6. Phil Mickelson ..... 809.286

7. Jeff Maggert ....... 806.625

8. Mark O'Meara ....... 801.250

9. Scott Hoch ......... 791.952

10. Brad Faxon ........ 727.500

Failed to qualify

Pos.Player ........... Points

11. Tommy Tolles ....... 689.285

12. Steve Jones ........ 579.280

13. Mark Brooks ........ 549.750

14. Paul Stankowski .... 503.334

15. Lee Janzen ......... 498.500

16. David Duval ........ 470.000

17. Fred Couples ....... 458.040

18. Tom Watson ......... 433.667

19. Tom Kite ........... 422.000

20. Michael Bradley .... 402.500

Pub Date: 8/18/97

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