By CHRIS DUNCAN
HUMBLE, Texas – Tiger Woods’ winning streak ended at Doral. Another impressive run could end this week at the Houston Open.
Davis Love III must win to qualify for next week’s Masters and continue the longest active streak of major championship appearances. Love hasn’t missed a major since the 1990 U.S. Open, a run of 70 in a row.
The streak is on his mind, but he’s realistic about his chances. Love tore ligaments in his left ankle when he stepped in a hole while playing golf last September and spent five months recovering after surgery.
“This is a week to try to get in the Masters,” Love said Tuesday. “This is also a week to try to get my year going.”
He’ll play in his seventh event of the year this week – ahead of his doctors’ expectations – but he’s finished no better than a tie for 24th at Pebble Beach in February and missed three cuts.
“When I first started back, they (doctors) said, ‘Don’t even worry about the Masters. You’re not going to have enough time to be ready even to play in it, much less win a tournament before it.’ I feel like I’ve got a leg up,’” Love said. “Now, I’ve played six times and I haven’t made any progress. At least I’ve played, I’ve gotten some rounds in and I’m still playing, so I’ve still got a shot.”
Love has been in this spot before, in 1995, and won in New Orleans the week before the Masters to earn an invitation. He was the runner-up to Ben Crenshaw at Augusta after shooting a 66 in the final round.
But that was 13 years ago, when he was playing better and with much more confidence than he is now.
Love played 10 holes at the Tournament Course at Redstone on Tuesday and said the layout perfectly suits his game. Not even he knows if he’s ready to start winning again.
“It’s a little bit different this year, coming off an injury,” he said. “I haven’t really had a chance to win this year. I haven’t had a lot of great rounds. It’s a whole different feeling.”
Love has gone into every tournament this year thinking about his streak of majors – to the point where it’s become a distraction. He hasn’t broken 70 in a first round and opened with a 76 in New Orleans last week before missing the cut.
“I think it’s kept me from getting off to good starts,” Love said. “If I do get off to a good start, it will be there at the end. But I’ve just got to get going, period. One good round is going to be pressure to play two good rounds and two good rounds is going to be pressure to play three.
“The first tournament I played was my best tournament. I was just going on adrenalin and excited to be back,” he said. “I really haven’t played a good tournament since then. I need to just get the year rolling.”
The ankle injury didn’t affect Love’s swing, but walking courses is a challenge now. He had the ankle enclosed in a protective boot for most of his rehab and the other muscles in his leg weakened as a result.
Former touring pro Mike Hulbert, Love’s close friend and part-time caddie, told him to stay patient and that might be the most difficult part for Love.
“Most people, when they come back from that, they go back to playing a little bit of golf or playing a little bit of tennis,” he said. “They’re not walking 6-8 miles a day, hitting golf balls and trying to play to get in the Masters.
“I’m not coming back and gradually working back into a normal life. I’m coming into a highly competitive, highly stressful (situation). One week you’ll be walking around in the rain and one week you’ll be walking around in the mud, one week, it’ll be hilly. I’m not giving it any breaks.”
At first, doctors told Love that the ankle injury might sideline him for the entire year. Whether he makes the Masters or not, Love knows his situation could’ve been much worse.
“I’ve got to be thankful that I’m playing. I could’ve had this whole year off, it was that bad of an injury,” he said. “We jumped on it with good doctors and I got a good therapist and I did the right things. I’m very thankful that I’m back playing.
“I’m not thankful for my scoring average, I’m not thankful that I’m coming up on my third tournament that I’m not exempt for, but I’m thankful I’ve got a chance to play, that I’m still out here playing,” he said. “It wouldn’t have taken much to be a year or two off, or a career-threatening injury. I’m happy to be here.”