GTE Byron Nelson Classic
GTE Byron Nelson Classic
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Love pulls four shots clear after 63

Davis Love III knew the wind was dying when sweat dripped off his brow from the suffocating Texas heat. A better indication was how he began making birdies to take control of the GTE Byron Nelson Classic today.

While tamer conditions gave late starters like Tiger Woods a break, Love made the most of it by shaking off a bogey-bogey start with nine birdies on his last 16 holes at Cottonwood Valley.

He finished with a 7-under-par 63 for a 4-stroke lead over John Huston, the largest 36-hole advantage in tournament history.

Two nearly flawless rounds put Love at 11-under 129 and gave him even more confidence that he can win for the first time in more than two years.

"I need to keep doing what I've been doing the last two days," Love said. "I've been feeling a long time that if one or two things right happen, I can get going again. I want to start moving back to the top. The only way to do that is to win. The only way to keep up with Tiger is to win."

Woods was the least of his worries -- so far.

Love will be paired Saturday with Huston, who had a bogey-free 65 on the TPC at Las Colinas and was at 133. The group at 135 included Jesper Parnevik (65) and 1996 PGA champion Mark Brooks (66).

Woods, in his first tournament since The Masters, flirted with missing only the second cut of his career until he finally holed a couple of putts on the back nine of Cottonwood Valley for a 67 that left him at even-par 140.

"I don't know if he's ever far enough behind," Love said. "But I'm playing my game.

Woods didn't count himself out, either.

"I turned a 62 into a 67. That takes talent," Woods said, managing a smile after a round in which he missed six putts inside 12 feet. "I just have to post a low one tomorrow and see what happens. I'm capable of that. I could have done that today."

That kind of score belonged only to Love and Phil Mickelson, who also had a 63 to get to 136, a score that looked pretty good until Love birdied four of the last five holes.

"One guy has separated himself from the field," said Mickelson, a two-time winner on tour this year. "There's a bunch of us that have a chance to make a run, or he had to come back. I doubt that will happen, so I anticipate having to shoot a good round tomorrow."

Love has been runner-up six times since his last victory in the 1998 MCI Classic, and has been in contention eight times on Sunday. Most of the time, however, he has gotten to the final round having to catch up and not finding a game that allowed him to do that.

It appeared he would dig another similar hole today when he hit a 7-iron over the flag to the Texas-shaped green on No. 1. Instead of trying to make the 35-footer from the fringe, he lagged it some 6 feet short and missed the par putt.

Another bogey from the bunker followed, but then Love warmed up with birdies on four of the next five holes, none longer than 10 feet.

"Nine birdies is an awful lot on any golf course," Love said. "I was very happy with the way I played, the consistency that I had today."

Birdies were certainly more available than on Thursday, when the gusts felt strong enough to blow tumbleweeds to Chicago. Fifty-two players broke par, compared to just 17 players in the tougher conditions Thursday.

That Love struck the ball well in both rounds was indication that his game could hold up well into the weekend.

"He's driving the ball really as pretty as I've seen the ball driven," said Brandel Chamblee, who played with Love the past two days. "The guy is in a zone."

Love took the past two weeks off to unclutter his mind of a dry spell that spans 53 PGA Tour events without winning. He also popped in a video of Ben Hogan and noticed how well Hogan turned all the way through with his swing.

"I haven't watched anyone else's swing in a long time" he said. "That was fun to watch Hogan swing and try to see if I can get through the ball as good as he can."

Hogan used to win quite a bit, too. That may turn out to be the greatest lesson.

DIVOTS: Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw made the cut for the first time in 24 tournaments. ... Fulton Allem, who once wrote "You are too slow" on Bob Estes's scorecard, was paired with Estes for the first two rounds. They chatted throughout the round today, but perhaps it was because Allem had a 68. "If he's playing good, he's like anybody else," Estes said. "If he's playing bad, you better look out. Fulton is a great guy, he just, uh, has his moments. He's still difficult to play with, but he thinks everyone else is difficult to play with." ... Stewart Cink hit a ball in the water on the par-3 ninth and took a ride in an official's cart back to the drop area. Why wasn't that a two-stroke penalty like the one assessed Fred Couples last week in New Orleans? Because it was authorized by a rules official -- Steve Rintoul in this case. Couples was given a lift by a marshal. ... Justin Leonard rebounded from an 80 to shoot a 69. He still missed the cut by six shots.

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