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Love’s Victory Includes Just a Little Bit of Sole

Times Staff Writer

Is this what you call a photo finish?

Davis Love III shot a 68 and won the AT&T; Pebble Beach National Pro-Am by one stroke Sunday, a victory that might not have happened if not for a photographer’s boot. It’s true, Love won by a foot.

At the par-three 12th and clinging to the lead, Love hit a tee shot that was long. But instead of disappearing into the rough, the ball struck the sole of one of the hiking boots worn by Kent Porter of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, who was stationed with his camera off the green.

The ball bounced back to within three feet of the hole, where Love rolled it in for a birdie.

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“I did get some good breaks,” Love admitted.

Love’s birdie at the 12th amounted to his margin of victory over Tom Lehman in the sunshine at Pebble Beach.

But even after that incident at the 12th, victory was no shoe-in.

Lehman, who closed with a 67, had pulled even with Love, playing one group ahead and standing over a five-foot putt for birdie at the 18th. But Lehman missed it and realized his chance had slipped away.

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“The fat lady was singing for me,” Lehman said.

It was Love’s first victory in two years covering 44 starts, since he won this same tournament in 2001. His $900,000 winner’s check is the largest in his 17 years as a pro.

“It’s been a long time,” Love said.

For Lehman, it’s been longer. He hasn’t won in three years and last year had just three top 10s. Maybe that’s why Lehman was so encouraged by being in the hunt again, even if it didn’t turn out the way he had wished.

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And there was nothing wrong with his putt, said Lehman, except for the fact that it didn’t go in.

Love was standing in the 18th fairway, figuring he needed an eagle to beat Lehman or a birdie to tie, when he learned that Lehman’s putt hadn’t fallen. From 224 yards out, Love hit a four-iron that stopped about 12 feet from the hole.

Love’s eagle putt rolled about a foot and a half past the hole, but he steered in the next one to close with a birdie and a 14-under total of 274.

He said he was relieved.

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“I said I was going to do a good job with my attitude this year and I did a very good job with it this week,” he said. “I did not hit the ball pure all week. I hit a lot of very good shots but I hit a lot of bad shots. I got some good breaks ... and I hung in there and it seems like the better your attitude is, the better the bounces you get.”

Actually, there was a combination of lucky bounces, if you can call them that, which worked in Love’s favor on the back nine.

First and foremost was the ball bouncing off the photographer’s boot. Then there was Love’s nervy putt for par at the 17th where the ball seemed to hang on the lip of the cup for a few seconds before falling in. And then there was the 18th green.

It wasn’t until this week that all of the 18th green had been open for play after it was redone to correct water damage from a storm. Lehman said the speed of the green was affected.

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“The green has been just thrashed by saltwater,” Lehman said. “And there’s not nearly as much grass on that green as the rest.”

With a three-shot lead and five holes to go, Love looked like he was on his way, but Love found a bunker at the 16th, slipped on his sand shot and made bogey.

Lehman, who had birdied four of the first five holes after the turn, finally caught up when he sank a curving, 20-foot birdie putt at the 17th.

All that was left was for Lehman to make his charge at a possible eagle. He missed the green off to the right with a five-wood, but chopped the ball onto the green with his lob wedge and looked at the five-footer that just wasn’t going to be.

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Love was proud of his four-iron, for obvious reasons.

“Hitting it on the green and being able to two-putt to win rather than to have to get it up and down is very, very big,” Love said.

Tim Herron’s 66 put him in a tie for third for the second consecutive week, this time at 12-under 266 with Mike Weir, who had a 68.

There was additional drama provided earlier courtesy of Phil Mickelson, who shot 45 on his first nine holes and finished with an 80. That was dead last in the field. Mickelson triple-bogeyed the 18th hole, a misfortune that included three-putting from two feet.

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Love had enough drama of his own. Knowing he needed to get off to a good start, he bogeyed two of the first three holes.

At least Love had experience about rebounding, remembering his first round at Poppy Hills, where he was three over with three holes to go. He was five over on the par-three holes that day.

And three days later, he wins.

Love said it’s a completely different feeling.

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“Being hurt, not being a hundred percent, [not] playing a full schedule and [not] practicing enough, and then not winning a couple times when I had a chance and putting more and more pressure on myself that it was time to win.

“It has been a long time. And you know, if you are patient, sometimes good things happen.”

And sometimes the ball bounces the right way.


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