FERGUSON ON GOLF: Love loss doesn't help perception

Updated: February 28, 2006, 2:31 AM ET
Associated Press

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- No one was sorry to see Tiger Woods leave, least of all Davis Love III.

No one understands better than Love that any number of players can be dressed up like Tiger Woods in the Match Play Championship, where anyone in any round can get a hot hand.

"I'm not wishing Tiger was here," Love said on the eve of his 36-hole championship match against Geoff Ogilvy. "I'd love to play him again, though."

Love might have wished he were around Sunday at La Costa to ease the sting of losing.

Getting beat by Woods would have been understandable, because Love has a history of that. Woods was 20 when he won his first PGA Tour event by beating Love in a playoff in Las Vegas with a par. He beat him in the Grand Slam of Golf when it was match play, and twice trounced him in the Match Play Championship.

Losing to Ogilvy only exacerbated Love's failures.

It brought into focus even more that Love, a world-class player with 18 victories and a major, has gone without a victory in six of his last eight seasons on the PGA Tour.

There is no such thing as an upset in the Accenture Match Play Championship.

But there is such a thing as perception, and this was a match everyone expected Love to win.

This was Love's best chance to capture a World Golf Championship, and a victory might have caused people to change the way they look at an otherwise sterling record. Along with his 18 victories and that rainbow-colored PGA Championship at Winged Foot, Love twice has won The Players Championship and only once in the last 16 years has failed to make the Tour Championship.

It doesn't matter that when Australians talk about their best talent, conversations usually don't get very far without Ogilvy's name being mentioned. He showed his resolve all week at La Costa, winning four consecutive matches in extra holes and building momentum by whipping up on Tom Lehman in the semifinals.

"It's always better to not run up against the world No. 1," Love said, "but Geoff Ogilvy is playing great."

No doubt.

The 28-year-old Aussie was 3 under in the morning round and was 4 under through 16 holes in the afternoon, and he hit a 4-iron from 227 yards into 6 feet for a conceded eagle on the par-5 11th that swung the match in his favor.

But this was as much about Love's shortcomings as anything Ogilvy did.

Love knew from experience that you're supposed to get your opponent down and then step on his neck. He failed to do that in 2004, and Woods came back from lunch to beat him.

This time, Love had a birdie putt to win on seven of the first 10 holes in the morning round against Ogilvy and didn't make any of them. He won his first hole with a birdie at No. 11 -- more a product of a poor bunker shot by Ogilvy -- and was ready to seize control at the 14th with a delicate bunker shot that left him a 3-foot par putt to go 2 up.

It caught the right lip and spun away.

No one should have been surprised what followed. Love sent a 3-wood into the right rough, hit too strong over the green into a bad lie in the bunker and made double bogey. And when Ogilvy made birdie on the 16th, the Aussie went from on the ropes to 1 up and never trailed the rest of the way.

Love had one last chance, battling back from a three-hole deficit in the afternoon with a tremendous par save out of deep rough on the fifth to halve the hole, then winning the next two to close the gap to one.

And when Ogilvy stuck out his chin, Love swung and missed.

Love was in the fairway at No. 9, knowing a par would almost certainly square the match. He aimed his 6-iron 20 feet left of the pin, and hit the shot 20 feet into the gallery and made bogey. On the next hole, Love had a 15-foot birdie putt that he left short.

Then came the roundhouse 4-iron from Ogilvy, and a 5-iron into 8 feet for birdie at No. 12, and the match was over.

Love remains without a victory since the 2003 International, and his loss Sunday at La Costa invited more skepticism about his game.

"I did everything good except for five or six iron shots, really," Love said.

Even with back and neck problems that have made it difficult for Love to find a flow in his playing schedule, his picturesque swing and power are a lethal combination. But for whatever reason, pictures of Love posing with the trophy are about as rare as pictures of Woods relaxing on his yacht.

Not that Love hasn't had his chances.

He was tied for the lead with Phil Mickelson going into the final round of the PGA Championship last year at Baltusrol, then bogeyed four of his first five holes. Two behind with four holes to play, including two par 5's at the end, Love never made up any ground.

Love will be 42 the week after the Masters and still has time left to change the perception of his career from a good one to a great one. But the window is closing.

He is on the PGA Tour ballot for the Hall of Fame, although he isn't worthy of a vote just yet.

At the end of 2004, when he thought a winless season was an aberration, Love was asked how he looked at his career. He was two wins away from lifetime membership on the PGA Tour. He was two majors away from what he considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

And he still is.

"I have a chance to have a great career," he said that day. "The next five or six years you'll either say, 'OK, I've done it.' Or you realize I haven't."

He won't get many chances like he had Sunday, especially with Woods nowhere to be found.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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