tampabay.com

Love ready to rejoin elite

By BOB HARIG
Published March 24, 2006


PONTE VEDRA BEACH - When he won the Players Championship three years ago, it was the signature victory in a four-win season for Davis Love. He fired a final-round 64 at the TPC-Sawgrass to capture his second Players title.

Love has gone winless since 2003, however, is stuck on 18 PGA Tour titles and has slipped out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

With 7-under-par 65 Thursday, Love took a step toward securing that elusive victory. His seven-birdie, no-bogey round was good for a tie with Ponte Vedra Beach resident Jim Furyk, two strokes ahead of Robert Allenby, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

"I'm looking forward to the next five to eight years, not just this week or this year," Love said. "I've made a lot of progress. I haven't won, but I think I made a lot of progress physically last year. I'm contending more and more and came out this year excited and ready to go. I still have the same goals and the same excitement. I still feel I'm in my window of opportunity. I want to keep working hard at it."

NO HOMETOWN ADVANTAGE: Furyk has lived in the area for more than a decade and makes the TPC-Sawgrass his home course. But he has never had particularly good success in the Players Championship. Although he tied for fourth in 2003, Furyk missed the cut last year and has no other top-10 finishes.

"I don't know what the issue is," he said. "Obviously if I did, I'd prepare every year in a different way and get ready better. But that's the goal this week."

WHAT DID YOU REALLY MEAN? Sergio Garcia shot 70 but didn't mince words in describing the score, even though his explanation didn't really make sense. "To be sincere, I played like crap," he said. "I didn't play very good at all. I didn't drive the ball great, hit a couple wacky iron shots. ... I guess I managed to shoot a half-decent round. Overall, not too bad."

AROUND SAWGRASS: Steve Elkington, who won the Players Championship in 1991 and 1997, withdrew with a groin injury. He was replaced by another Australian, Nathan Green. ... Shigeki Maruyama also withdrew, citing a back injury, but did so after shooting 78, so he won't be replaced in the field. ... Seventeen balls found the water hazard at the par-3 17th, including two each by Bob Estes and Scott McCarron. Both made 7, hitting their third shot from the drop area in the water. U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell had the shot closest to the pin, knocking it to 5 inches for one of 18 birdies on the hole. ... The 447-yard par-4 18th has traditionally been one of the toughest closing holes on the PGA Tour. It played the most difficult Thursday, averaging 4.326.

TPC GLANCE

A look at the first round of the Players Championship:

LEADERS: Davis Love and Jim Furyk at 7-under 65.

TRAILING: Robert Allenby, Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez were at 67.

SHOT OF THE DAY: Patrick Sheehan holed out from the fourth fairway for eagle.

ISLAND ADVENTURES: Fifteen players hit 17 balls into the water on the island-green 17th. Scott McCarron and Bob Estes each hit two in the water.

KEY STAT: Furyk had never shot in the 60s in the first round in his 10 previous tries at Sawgrass.