Originally created 02/24/01

Love sets his sights on a bigger prize



LOS ANGELES -- That $500,000 bonus for winning the West Coast Swing is an afterthought for Davis Love III, who suddenly has a better prize in mind.

Love, who went 34 months without winning and now can't seem to do anything wrong, had a 4-under 67 at soggy Riviera Country Club on Friday to share the lead with Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain after two rounds of the Nissan Open.

"Winning at Riviera is the focal point," said Love, who was at 7-under 135.

Jimenez, part of the European invasion on the PGA Tour this year, was leading by two strokes late in the afternoon until bogeys on the par 3s dropped him back to tie for the lead. He wound up with a 66.

Tiger Woods briefly flirted with missing the cut until starting his back nine with back-to-back birdies. He was still on the course, still trying to cut into a five-stroke deficit.

Love is playing the kind of golf everyone expected out of Woods, and he has temporarily replaced Woods as the hottest player on tour. In his last three tournaments, Love won at Pebble Beach with a final-round 63 (breaking Woods' record), lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines and finds himself in great position going into the weekend once again.

He's even starting to sound like Woods.

"I was playing good golf, now I'm playing pretty good golf," Love said. "I'm not playing great golf. I'm not playing perfect, but I am playing determined and confident. There are times when I've hit it better, been more 'on' when I've won. I'm still leaving a few strokes out there."

No one left more strokes out on Riviera than Kirk Triplett. The defending champion was one of four leaders after the first round at 5 under, made four birdies on Friday and still missed the cut. He also had three double bogeys in his round of 81.

In fact, none of the other leaders were much better.

Brent Schwarzrock, the 13th alternate who got in with 15 others withdrew, was 3 over for his round and trying to limit the damage on the back nine. Sergio Garcia had a 72 and was at 4-under 138. And Tom Scherrer was 1 over for his round.

Love was at a slight disadvantage teeing off so early on Friday. Rain overnight soaked the course, and it was still raining as Love warmed up and played his first two holes. A strong, swirling breeze shooed away the clouds, but made the course play tough early on.

For example, Love hit driver and a 1-iron on the 503-yard opening hole, just short of the green. On Thursday, he reached the par 5 with a 3-wood and a 6-iron.

But as it warmed up, so did Love. He picked up a stroke on the field with a 3-iron into 4 feet on the 236-yard fourth hole, and briefly pulled away from the field with four birdies on a five-hole stretch starting on the back nine.

His momentum finally shut down when he hit into the left bunker on the par-3 16th and failed to save par.

Jimenez started in the afternoon when the breeze died, and he picked up momentum quickly. After an eagle on the opening hole, the Spaniard holed a par putt from about 15 feet off the fringe on No. 2 and then birdied the third.

It's a good way for Jimenez to end the West Coast Swing, since he has missed the cut twice and has yet to finish in the top 10.

"The hole was moving away," Jimenez said in describing his struggles on the bumpy greens of Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. "When the hole is moving, it's very difficult. Today, the putter was working pretty good."

Any more, Love can't seem to finish anywhere but near the top.

That's a far cry from the last three years, when he went 62 PGA Tour events without winning. Love was giving himself chances, but starting to put more pressure on himself to win as each week went by.

That's no longer an issue.

"It's more fun," Love said. "I'm not grinding as hard. I'm standing over putts convinced I'm going to make them, not wondering if I'm going to make them. That's a huge difference."

He wasn't even going to play this week until deciding to protect his position in the West Coast Swing standings, a bonus program that awards points based on how a player finishes in the first eight tournaments of the year.

Love is in a three-way tie for the lead, and the only one who had a decent chance of catching him was Phil Mickelson, who won at Torrey Pines two weeks ago. Mickelson also was a late entry, and made an early departure -- he shot a 74 and missed the cut at 5-over 147.

The West Coast Swing winner gets $500,000, while winning pays out $612,000.

"That would be an interesting sidebar," Love said. "But I want to win Riviera. That's the main reason I'm here."

Divots: Despite finishing with three straight bogeys, German amateur Gary Birch had a 72 and made the cut. Birch, a Monday qualifier for the Nissan Open, became the first amateur to make a cut on the PGA Tour since Jeffrey Wilson tied for 59th in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last year. ... Kirk Triplett went from a tie for the lead to a weekend off. The last player who had such an ignominious turnaround was Rod Pampling of Australia, who led after the first round of the 1999 British Open and then missed the cut.