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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

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, Ga., 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 1/2 points to the American victory. "I was playing
for the love of it," he says, "and I think that's what I was

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

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."

Nelson is too self-effacing to say that he is another big reason
that the players come. They'll say so with no hesitation. Kirk
Triplett received a congratulatory note from Nelson in February,
after he won for the first time in his 11-year career, in Los
Angeles. "One of my first years playing here," Triplett says, "I
saw Mr. Nelson in the hallway, walked up and introduced myself.
He stopped me. 'You don't have to tell me who you are,' he said.
'I know who you are.'"

Nelson says he writes notes so that "I'm in touch with [the
players]. They're aware of me. They're aware of the tournament."
He says the effect of his missives is "exaggerated." Love
disagrees. One year Nelson wrote to Love not only to ask him to
play, but also to invite him and Fred Couples to dinner at
Fairway Ranch, where Nelson has lived since he gave up the Tour
in 1946. Love calls the evening "one of the greatest things I've
done in my life." Nelson's home remains simple. "We don't have a
dishwasher," he says. "I'm the dishwasher." He's also an
accomplished woodworker. He made the swing that sits on the
porch of the house he shares with his second wife, Peggy (his
first wife, Louise, died in 1985), and just last month finished
another two-seater that sits in a shady nook in the yard. On the
back of a bench slat, he burned in MADE BY BYRON NELSON.

Nelson continues to tee off with Sam Snead to open the Masters,
and during the par-3 tournament the day before, Nelson sits at
one of the tee boxes and holds court. "Everybody sits in the
chair beside him," Love says. "He attracts people. My
11-year-old daughter [Alexia] could care less about golf, but
she caddied for me in the par-3, and sitting next to Byron
Nelson meant something to her. It was like sitting next to
Michael Jordan."

Alexia Love was confirmed in the Presbyterian church in St.
Simons Island on Sunday morning. Her dad nearly flew home on
Saturday night so he could be there. Because he was to play in
the final group, he figured he could get back in time. But Love
finally decided not to risk it. He stayed at the Nelson, where,
patient or not, he confirmed his status as a closer who has
forgotten how to close.


COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM GUND KING OF THE TEXAS SWING Lord Byron, who built this swing a month ago, also stays active by sending frequent notes to the pros.

Love calls the evening he and Couples spent at Nelson's Fairway
Ranch "one of the greatest things I've ever done in my life."