Originally created 02/05/01

Another stunning comeback at Pebble



PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- A seven-stroke deficit was wiped out in seven holes, but that's where the similarities ended Sunday in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. This time, the stunning comeback happened early, and it belonged to Davis Love III.

Seven strokes behind to start the final round, Love erased that margin by playing his first seven holes in a staggering 8-under par. He finished with a 9-under 63, and buried his 0-for-62 winless drought on the PGA Tour.

Love finished at 272 for a one-stroke victory over Vijay Singh, and three shots ahead of Phil Mickelson. Both had a chance to force a playoff until crucial shots went over the cliff and into the Pacific Ocean.

"It's not what I expected," Love said.

Most of the attention was on Tiger Woods, who made up seven strokes over his last seven holes last year for an amazing victory. Woods was only a spectator on another gorgeous day on the Monterey Peninsula, playing in the group behind Love and watching a comeback that must have looked familiar.

Love's 63 was the lowest finish by a winner in the 60-year history of the National Pro-Am, topping the 64 Woods had last year.

It also was the best score ever at Pebble Beach without being able to lift, clean and place. Tom Kite in 1983 and David Duval in 1997 each had a 62 in those conditions.

The seven-stroke comeback tied the National Pro-Am record first set by Bob Rosburg in 1961.

But Love needed some help.

Singh was one stroke behind when his tee shot on the par-3 17th sailed left of the green and over the cliff. He birdied the 18th for a 69.

Mickelson, a co-leader after 54 holes, was one stroke back and in great shape in the 18th fairway when he tried to hit driver off the deck from 257 yards and flared it out to the left, over the sea wall and bounding onto the rocks.

He made double bogey and closed with a 73.

Olin Browne, the other co-leader, also had a 73 to tie for third.

That left Love a winner for the first time since April 1998, and the author of a comeback that was not quite as thrilling as what Woods did last year, but required a game that was no less impressive.

The signature shot was a 97-yard wedge he holed for eagle from the 15th fairway. Love had one of those, too, a 104-yard wedge that went in for an eagle on the par-5 second hole that sent him on his way.

"When Tiger came back, he had one of those," Love said. "Sometimes, it takes something like that to get it going."

Get it going, indeed.

Love made no worse than birdie on his first seven holes, went out in 28 and then took the lead with a 3-wood into the famous 18th hole that landed pin high about 35 feet away to set up a two-putt birdie.

The victory was a long time coming for Love, who has 14 career victories but had not won since the 1998 MCI Classic. He had seven runner-up finishes and three thirds during that span, putting pressure on himself to win as each week went by.

What might have helped was winning Woods' tournament, the unofficial Williams World Challenge, in December. Love came from four strokes behind to beat Woods by two.

Woods was never a factor Sunday.

He made three straight bogeys early, including a 5-iron that sailed into the bleachers on the par-3 fifth hole, and wound up with a 72. He tied for 13th, eight strokes behind.

Love had an ominous start to his day. He found grease on his clubs, which got onto his clothes. By the time he got the mess cleaned up, he had only 15 minutes to warm up.

It didn't take him long to get going.

Love's approach to the first green stopped 35 feet away, but he made the putt to begin his blistering string of birdies. He hooked his drive on the 502-yard second hole and had to lay up short of the mammoth ditch.

"It was a feel wedge," said his caddie, which presumably meant that Love was feeling good about it, especially when it went the hole for eagle.

He birdied No. 3 from 4 feet, rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt up the slope on No. 4, then hit his approach over Stillwater Cove into the 188-yard fifth hole to 3 feet. He got up-and-down from the bunker on the par-5 sixth for another birdie, then hit a sand wedge from 101 yards that spun back to 2 feet on the par-3 seventh.

Seven holes. Eight under. In the lead.

Neither Mickelson nor Browne made a birdie until the sixth hole, while Craig Barlow started birdie-eagle and tied Love with a birdie on No. 6.

Love's great run ended with a good two-putt par on No. 8, and he was two blades of grass away from a birdie putt at No. 9 that would have tied the PGA Tour record for the lowest nine. Love had to settle for a 28.

Fans sunbathing on the rocks along the Cliffs of Dooms turned their back on Love while waiting for Woods to come down the 10th fairway. They were waiting for another great comeback, but were looking in the wrong direction.