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Final-hole birdie gives Love first win since 2001

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- It's all mental, Davis Love III told
himself. Thriving at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is a triumph
of the mind.

So Love took the course on Sunday with a lead -- which he
promptly lost. He got it back -- and he lost it again, going to the
18th hole needing to do something spectacular for his second win at
Pebble Beach in three years.

And on the most nerve-wracking day of his career, Love didn't
succumb to the pressure. Instead, he applied it.

Love hit a spectacular approach shot and a short birdie putt on
the 18th hole for a one-stroke victory over surging Tom Lehman on
Sunday. It was Love's first win since his 2001 triumph at Pebble
Beach -- and a big load off his mind.

''That's probably as nervous as I've ever been playing a round
of golf,'' Love said. ''I was so nervous (on the 18th) because I
figured I had to make eagle to win, birdie to tie. It just seems
like whenever I would make a mistake this week, it would force me
to get back to a positive.''

Love, who got his 15th PGA Tour victory with a final-round 68,
thrust his hands into the air shortly after the last shot. His
share of the $5 million purse was $900,000 -- the biggest paycheck
ever for the third-leading money winner in PGA history, who
finished at 14-under 274.

Before his victory at Pebble Beach in 2001, Love had gone 62
events and 34 months between victories. This time, he had been
without a win in 44 official events over 24 months while playing a
slightly reduced schedule because of neck and back problems -- and a
confused state of mind that cleared up at Pebble Beach.

''This tournament has always been about attitude,'' Love said.
''(If) you come here thinking it's going to be wet, it's going to
be windy and cold, you've got to play with amateurs, it's going to
take six hours -- you're already lost. It definitely is a week for a
good attitude, and that fits for me.''

Love held a three-stroke lead over Lehman with six holes to play
after an incredible string of six birdies in eight holes, but
Lehman made his own birdie binge and caught Love with two holes
left.

It was Lehman's first dramatic move in a steady tournament -- and
it was a test of every much-heralded mental adjustment Love has
made to his game over the last two years.

''I did a good job not watching the leaderboard, but I was
watching Tom Lehman an awful lot,'' said Love, who made up a
seven-stroke deficit to win in 2001. ''I guess that's just as bad.
I was watching him probably too much.''

Besides, Love figured he had used up a whole lot of luck on the
12th hole, when his errant tee shot ricocheted off a greenside
photographer to within 4 feet of the cup.

Turns out he still had a few good shots left.

On the fourth straight day of perfect weather on the Monterey
Peninsula, two veterans whose careers have lagged recently battled
down the stretch of an entertaining final round in the popular
pro-am.

''I feel like my game is the best it's been in a long time,''
said Lehman, who has just one victory since winning the British
Open and the Tour Championship in 1996. ''I really am hitting the
ball more like I used to. It became quite evident to me at the
beginning of the season that if I start making a few putts, I'm
going to be a factor in some tournaments this year.''

After beginning the day with a two-stroke lead, Love made six
birdies in the eight holes around the turn. Lehman charged back
with three straight birdies on the back nine and another on the
17th that tied him with Love at 13 under -- but after saving par on
the 17th with a tricky 8-foot putt that hung on the lip for an
instant, Love finished strong.

He hit a long drive and a spectacular 4-iron from the famous
seaside fairway to within 12 feet. Love then two-putted -- moments
after Lehman missed a short birdie putt.

Lehman finished with a 5-under 67 to go 13 under for the
tournament. It was his best finish since the 2001 Sony Open in
Hawaii -- and a thrilling result for Lehman, whose wife, Melissa, is
nearly ready to deliver their fourth child. He doesn't plan to go
back East with the tour following the West Coast swing.

Tim Herron -- who shot a final-round 66 -- and Mike Weir finished
third at 276. Weir, off to the best start of his career, won last
week's Bob Hope Classic and held the lead over playing partner Love
on the front nine.

''It was unfortunate that I couldn't get a putt to go in on the
back nine,'' Weir said. ''But Davis played so well, I doubt I could
have caught him.''

In a tournament known for dramatic final-round comebacks --
particularly in the last three years, when Tiger Woods, Love and
Matt Gogel all roared from behind -- Love became the first 54-hole
winner to hold on since Brett Ogle in 1993.

Love got his biggest break at the par-3 12th, where his tee shot
took a serendipitous bounce off greenside photographer Kent Porter.
Love tossed the ball to Porter as a keepsake.

''If we hit somebody on the head, we give them the ball,'' Love
said with a grin. ''If felt like if you hit a guy in the foot and
it comes back on a green and you make a birdie, he at least
deserves the ball -- maybe more.''