The last time Davis Love III missed a major championship, George Bush was in the second year of his presidency. And that was George H.W. Bush.
So call it karma that Saturday, during the third round of the Shell Houston Open, the elder Bush showed up in Love’s gallery. But the presidential vibe failed to lift Love, who shot a three-under 69, leaving him nine strokes off the lead and with no realistic chance of winning the tournament. That meant he could not repeat what he had done in 1995: winning the week before the Masters to qualify for the first major championship of the season. In ’95 Love won in New Orleans and went on to finish a heart-wrenching second to Ben Crenshaw at Augusta.
So what had been expected is now official: For the first time since the 1990 U.S. Open, Love will not be playing in a major, ending the longest active streak of consecutive major appearances at 70. The longest such streak now belongs to Phil Mickelson, with 55. The alltime record is held by Jack Nicklaus, who played in a staggering 146 straight majors over 36 1/2 years before passing on the 1998 British Open. Tom Watson is second with 87 straight. A shoulder injury kept him out of the ’96 British Open, or his streak would be at 102.
It’s arguable whether the Masters is the most prestigious major, but without question it’s the most glamorous, and missing it was never far from Love’s thoughts. “It was in the back of my mind, the front of my mind and probably on both sides,” says Love, who finished five under in Houston, well off the lead. “I can think of six or eight shots that I threw away because I was trying too hard.”
The week wasn’t a total bust for the 43-year-old Love, who tore ligaments in his left ankle last September when he stepped in a hole while playing golf at home in Sea Island, Ga. The injury required surgery and serious rehabilitation. Love used the Masters as a carrot to push himself, and although he limps slightly late in rounds, he has recovered much faster than expected. Doctors initially thought that he might play once or twice before the Masters. Houston marked Love’s seventh start of the year and his best finish since coming in 24th at Pebble Beach in February, his first tournament back.
“I went to dinner with Brad Faxon the other night, and he’s had two knee surgeries since last year,” Love says. “I could still be hobbling around, so I have to be happy that I’m playing. I’m way ahead of schedule.”
Love says he might do some turkey hunting this week, and although it will be difficult, he’ll watch the Masters on TV. “When I wasn’t in the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup, it wasn’t much fun watching, either,” he says. But there are still other carrots out there to entice him. “I might miss the Masters, but that doesn’t mean I can’t win the U.S. Open or the British. I’m hoping for a big summer.”