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One win puts Love at 20 and into Hall of Fame light

Photo: John Raoux/AP

Davis Love III joined Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh as the only active players with more than 20 wins.

By DOUG FERGUSON
Associated Press Golf Writer

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — So much for that notion the Fall Series on the PGA Tour is meaningless.

On the surface, Davis Love III winning at Disney might have looked that way.

He scrambled for pars on the last two holes to hold off a rookie (Tommy Gainey) who was 228th on the money list, wears two gloves and looks like he's trying to kill a snake every time he swings. When it was over, Love posed with a bronze trophy of Mickey Mouse playing golf (just think of the white elephant gift nobody will take off your hands).

But that one victory was enough to change the perception of Love.

Timing is everything.

He won the final event of a season in which Love struggled to return from a devastating ankle injury last October that kept him out of golf for four months, out of the Masters and off another Ryder Cup team. And his victory came one day before the induction ceremony for the World Golf Hall of Fame.

It probably won't be long before Love is on that stage, perhaps as early as next year.

Love received 19 percent of the votes on the PGA Tour ballot this year, eighth place in the voting and far short of the 65 percent needed for election. The only difference between now and then is a victory across the street from the Magic Kingdom.

It gave him more than $828,000, a two-year exemption and a trip to Kapalua for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship.

More than anything, it gave him 20 victories.

"That's like a 300-game winner in baseball," Brad Faxon said Tuesday. "Fewer and fewer guys are going to reach that number. It's going to be harder and harder to do."

Those 20 victories include the PGA Championship at Winged Foot in 1997, and two victories at The Players Championship, which is considered the next best thing to a major. Love has won at least once in 13 seasons, and he extended his PGA Tour record by going over $1 million in earnings for the 14th consecutive year.

A year ago, he was considered the most talented underachiever.

But a number like 20 tends to shift focus on what he has achieved instead of what he could have.

Among active players, only Tiger Woods (65), Phil Mickelson (34) and Vijay Singh (34) have won at least 20 times on tour. No one else is particularly close to that number, and few have a chance of getting there.

Ernie Els has 16 wins (three majors), a number that might be higher if not for playing around the world for the last two decades. Fred Couples and Corey Pavin have 15 wins and one major. David Duval looked like a lock for 20 wins until injuries begat a loss of confidence and sent him into a mystifying slump. He is at 13, along with Jim Furyk.

Love won half of his tournaments after Woods arrived, and it's getting even tougher to win with greater depth and more international players on the PGA Tour.

He nearly choked up behind the 18th green of the Magnolia Course at Disney for so many reasons.

Love is 44, and while he still looks and feels much younger, it is an age when players naturally wonder if their last victory is behind them. It doesn't help to go two years without a victory while struggling to return from an injury.

"You always question, 'Am I doing the right things?' and 'Can I still do it?' and 'Why am I doing it?"' Love said. "But I didn't doubt my desire. I didn't doubt the fact that I could compete."

The victory also came nearly 20 years to the day when his father was killed in a plane crash.

"I would put this one right up there with New Orleans," said Faxon, referring to Love's victory in 1995 that got him into the Masters as longtime friend Harvey Penick was dying. "I thought it had to be as meaningful a win as any of them. He's been hurt. He hasn't won. His 20th victory on the 20th anniversary of his father's death.

"This virtually guarantees his spot in the Hall of Fame."

But if 20 wins is comparable to a pitcher winning 300 games or a hitter with 500 home runs, the Hall of Fame vote probably should start with another 20-tournament winner - Lanny Wadkins.

Wadkins was not nearly as congenial as Love, which might explain why he hasn't been elected. Wadkins, who received 50 percent of the vote last time, finished his career with 21 victories, one major at the PGA Championship at Pebble Beach and Ryder Cup heroics.

The one difference might be consistency. In the 21 years between his first and last victory, Wadkins finished out of the top 50 on the money list seven times. Love has done that only twice in same stretch.

Of the seven players with at least 20 victories who are not in the Hall of Fame, only Love and Wadkins have won majors.

"I just remember that Lanny, when he won 20 (he) was so excited and what a big deal it was to him," Love said. "That separated Lanny from everybody else, that he had won 20 events. And back then, that was a dream, fantasy."

Indeed, when Wadkins won his 20th tour event in 1991, that moved him past contemporaries like Hale Irwin (19), Curtis Strange (17), Ben Crenshaw (15) and Tom Kite (15), all of whom now are in the Hall of Fame.

That's the kind of separation Love now has over some of his colleagues.

Wadkins should not have had to wait this long for his Hall of Fame election. Love should not be too far behind.

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