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A long season for Davis Love III

He's not quite ready for turkey hunting back home in Sea Island, Ga. Not quite ready for bonefishing off the California coast with his buddy Jim Griggs. But he's close. And some days, he feels closer than others.

Davis Love III is tired. You can see it in his play, the way he can't quite string together consecutive rounds as he did when this season was full of promise and delight. You can see it in his stride, the way those perpetually erect shoulders are hunched and that swift and direct gait looks laborious. He admits that his patience is thinning, and it doesn't help that his cranky back started acting up again recently.

Only eight months have passed since that wind-swept afternoon at Pebble Beach, when Love won for the first time in two years and began charting a course toward the best of his 18-year professional career. "Seems like two years ago now," he says.

Since then, the journey has alternated peaks and valleys with uncommon regularity. Three more victories and a renovation of the PGA Tour course in Greensboro have balanced against the suicide of the husband of his wife's sister and rumors about his wife and his marriage.

"I'm tired of this year," Love says, leaning against a locker at the Capital City Club outside Atlanta. "I really can't wait for it to get over. I can't wait for the days when no one calls. When I don't have to talk to anyone. When I don't have to answer questions about what's going on. Just a few days when no one asks for me and no one thinks about me."

That's the paradox for one of the PGA Tour's most respectable and accommodating players. This is the year when there's finally so much good to relive. The wins. The race for that elusive money title. The rekindled ability to throw down the gauntlet on Sunday afternoons. But the rest of it, so much of what has unfolded away from the golf course, remains too painful, too raw.

Love isn't ready to hang up the spikes for the season, though. Too much remains over these next few weeks, too many goals he may finally get to cross from his yellow legal pads.

With at least another victory down the stretch, Love would remain in contention to keep Tiger Woods from an unprecedented fifth straight player-of-the-year award. With a few good results, Love may finally snare his first money title.

And this week, Love will make his long-awaited trip through Greensboro, aware that this could be the seminal moment for his 9-year-old design firm, could help rejuvenate a decaying 65-year-old tournament and could bring scores of praise instead of rumor and innuendo.

Love Golf Design's $3.5 million renovation of Forest Oaks Country Club finally gets unveiled at this week's Chrysler Classic of Greensboro, and the man who concocted the idea nearly two years ago finally gets a chance to play the course he once loved, the one he believes players will come to love again.

"I can't wait to get out there and play," Love said. "Not everyone's going to like it, and I'm sure there are going to be some people that will think we messed the place up. But I don't think we did. I think we did it right, and I hope most of the guys feel that way."

If the defining moment of his playing career arrived on a rain-spattered day outside New York City in 1997, when he sank a clinching putt underneath a rainbow at the PGA Championship, this may be the defining moment of his second career.

Media outlets will invariably discuss what Love Golf Design was able to do to a layout that players had come to loathe following Fuzzy Zoeller's alterations in the early 1990s. USA and ABC will offer color shots of Love's work for four days.

So when he looks back in 25 years, his playing career finished, he may just be able to isolate this week as the one when Love Golf Design went from well-respected to must-have.

"Davis takes a lot of pride in what he does," said Brad Faxon. "He knows his name's on it forever. He knows what it means to put your name on a PGA Tour course. He's not going to take that lightly."

Beginning last November, Love Golf Design refurbished all of Forest Oaks' greens and rerouted a handful of holes. When the Tour players arrive this week, they'll get a look at the the 16th current Tour course designed by a Tour player. Love will be one of only two current, full-time tour players with PGA Tour layouts, joining Peter Jacobsen, who designed Redstone Golf Club for the Shell Houston Open.

"I'm excited because we wanted the job so bad," Love said. "We wanted to bring the course back to where guys were excited to play it again. It's exposure for our company, and it can't get any better. If the members say they like it, and players say they like it, that can really do wonders for our golf design business."

The early reviews have offered more than Love ever expected. Rocco Mediate fawned over it during a recent media day. John Cook, in town to watch his son play a junior tournament this summer, said Love addressed all of the major complaints. Tour pro and Lake Jeanette resident John Maginnes called it "the best redesign I've ever seen."

"This is going to make a big impact, I think on the tournaments as they go," Mediate said. "You've got the current No. 4 player in the world redesigning a course that 20 years ago was awesome but had gotten kind of funky. And now it's better than it was 20 years ago, when it was awesome. Now it's just going to get better and better."

It's left Love somewhat giddy at times, as he was on the range in Atlanta a little more than a week ago, beating 3-woods into the afternoon chill and telling agent Mac Barnhardt that, "We should really get some of Rocco's quotes and put them in our brochures."

It's also left him somewhat relieved. After all, there were times when Love wasn't sure the project would ever get started, times when he thought it would never get finished.

At the 2002 U.S. Open, Love thought the deal would never materialize. Just two months later, Forest Oaks, the Jaycees and Love Golf Design agreed to a contract. Then foul weather delayed groundbreaking last November, and it never seemed to stop. Approximately 72 inches of rain have fallen since the project's inception, according to Forest Oaks superintendent Dan Winters, and that didn't include a handful of ice storms and snowstorms.

"Everything you've seen the last year is the reason why you take these jobs, and the reason why you don't," Love said. "You just never know what's going to happen. If something bad happens, it's your fault. It may not be. It may be the weather. They might run out of money. But nobody sees that. It turns out to be Davis Love III's fault. No matter what you say, no matter how hard you tried and what you had to overcome, you screwed up."

In some strange, and far less important, way the Forest Oaks renovation seemed a representation of the rest of Love's year. At times, it was smooth sailing. At others, there was wonderment about how to proceed.

It was certainly smooth this spring for Love, whose offseason work began to pay off. With a two-year winless drought and a disappointing 2002 season, when he finished 21st on the money list, Love got off the couch and stopped using his temperamental back as an excuse and spent a couple of days with sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who told him to "chase your own potential."

"I didn't want to leave anything on the table the next five to 10 years," Love said. "I know I haven't won as much as I should have, and I didn't want to say this was as good as I was going to get. I wanted to recommit myself."

In the first four months of the season, Love won three times. He stuck a 4-iron on the 18th at Pebble Beach for his first win in two years and to snap his string of collapses. He shot a final-round 64 on a cold and windy afternoon at The Players Championship that ranks as one of the best closing rounds on the PGA Tour this year. He chipped in for birdie on the 72nd hole at the MCI Heritage Classic to get into a playoff that he eventually won over Woody Austin.

It didn't take long for the rain to arrive. Shortly after Love returned from Charlotte's inaugural Wachovia Championship in May, Love's brother-in-law and operations manager, Jeffrey Knight, committed suicide. Knight, who handled many of Love's day-to-day affairs, was being investigated by the FBI for embezzling funds from Love's account.

It wasn't the first major loss for the Love family. In 1988, Davis Love Jr. died in a plane crash on his way to Jacksonville, Fla.

"I know from experience just how hard that first year is," Love said. "We've got to help Robin's sister and her kids. I mean, those kids are going to wake up on Christmas without their father."

Love could have used support from the Sea Island community. Instead, the close-knit community churned the rumor mill into high gear for Love and his wife, Robin. Sports Illustrated quoted Love as saying the rumors involved "Robin's infidelity, our marriage breaking up, her being arrested for indecent exposure on a beach, using drugs."

"It's been such a tough year on Davis," said Love's mother, Penta. "He told me there have been some times when he thought he might lose his mind."

Love heard the rumors after returning from the British Open in July. A month later, he learned that they had followed him to the Rocky Mountains. After his runaway victory at the International in Castle rock, Colo., a teary-eyed Love dedicated the win to his wife.

"We've certainly had a lot of issues in our family this year," Love said. "We're working through it every day."

Davis Love III doesn't want to be the savior in Greensboro. He never did. He certainly doesn't now, not when there are far more important things that need his attention.

Reviving the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro, after all, requires more than a refurbished golf course. It takes a greater commitment the Greensboro Jaycees, the local community and Triad businesses. But Love knows what an improved golf course can do to rekindle interest from some of the PGA Tour's top players, igniting a domino effect that trickles down through organizers, sponsors and fans.

Love has energized Greensboro before, perhaps even offering the apex of a 64-year-old golf event. Eleven years ago, Love blistered the original Forest Oaks layout with a final-round 62 that set a course record, was six shots better than anyone else that Sunday and delivered the sixth of his 18 PGA Tour titles.

In this year of back and forth, perhaps this is where the road finally turns in the right direction again. Where Love returns and wins on the course he designed and puts himself right back in contention for the player of the year and the money title.

"I can't," Mediate said, "think of a better finish."

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