Too bad Love's timing isn't better

Few remember the winners of golf's silly season events, except perhaps those who lose. That is why the conclusion of Sunday's Target World Challenge meant something to Davis Love III, even if no World Ranking points were at stake and no official money was on the line.

Sure, the $1.2 million Love earned spends just as well as the money that counts in the record books. But it wouldn't have meant fewer presents under the Christmas tree for the Love family had Davis not won the tournament. And it wouldn't have altered the view that Love had the best season of his career.

But it did affirm it in Love's mind. And it's never a bad thing to hold off the world's best player, Tiger Woods, even if the circumstances were a bit more casual than normal (especially since Love led Woods by 10 shots with nine holes to play, only to see Tiger rattle off six birdies in seven holes).

Too bad, however, it couldn't have come in October at the Funai Classic or Chrysler Championship, tournaments Love entered with the express intention of trying to win the PGA Tour money title and Player of the Year honors. Too bad it didn't come at the Tour Championship, where such a showing might have locked up both.

Too bad Love's timing isn't just a bit better.

Had Sunday's victory against a world-class field -- 12 players right off the top of the World Ranking list and major championship winners Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel -- come six weeks ago, or two months ago, it would have made 2003 a monster year for Love. Instead, it came in December at the end of a long, long season when most players are already looking ahead to next year.

"I was probably one win short from being Player of the Year,'' said Love, 39, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He won four times on the PGA Tour this year, including the Players Championship. "It's pretty obvious. Tiger had two World Golf Championships, and I had the Players Championship. If I'd had one more, my wins were pretty good tournaments. ... I definitely needed one more win. I felt like the last five or six weeks, that's what it was going to come down to, if I could win one more time.''

Timing. Another victory like Sunday's -- when it counted -- would have been the difference between a great year and one that goes beyond.

And to take it even further, what if Love's victory at Hilton Head had come a week earlier -- at The Masters? Love has often lamented that fact. Four times he's won the Hilton Head event, which comes a week after The Masters, a tournament he'd dearly love to win. Love has five top-10s and two runner-up finishes at Augusta National but no victories. He's won the week after The Masters four times.

This year's victory at the International came the week before the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut.

It's shake-your-head type of stuff.

Perhaps Love's time is coming. With his 40th birthday approaching, he appears to be getting better with age. Nagging injuries seem to be healed. And that has led to more practice time and confidence.

Then there are the mental hurdles. Love had a phenomenal year while enduring personal distress, including the suicide in May of his brother-in-law -- who had been embezzling from Love -- and confronting rumors about his marital life. He dedicated his International victory to his wife, Robin, and won despite the distractions.

"I made some strides in my game this year,'' Love said. "I met my goal of trying to compete every week and be ready to play every week. ... I came here to play to win, not to just show up and collect a little money and go snowboarding. I came to win and worked hard to win.

"I think it's just a continuation of what I've tried to do all year, and hopefully for next year, I can work a little harder and be a little more consistent and not sit back and say 'I've got it now.' ''

Love has 18 PGA Tour titles, including his lone major at the 1997 PGA Championship. And Love is moving in on some pretty fine company: Tied for 40th in all-time PGA Tour victories, with Tom Kite, Hubert Green, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman and Hale Irwin just ahead of him.

Too bad Sunday's impressive victory didn't count. For Love, though, it was nonetheless meaningful.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com