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Love runner up again despite miracle shot

Once again, Davis Love III was the forgotten man at the Masters, despite a shot that will long be remembered.

José Maria Olazábal won another green jacket, Greg Norman suffered another gut-wrenching failure, and Love was stuck in the middle. He finished two shots behind Olazábal and one ahead of Norman, a runner-up for the second time at Augusta National.

Love is no longer hounded by questions about his lack of a major title -- a rainbow-inspired victory at the 1997 PGA Championship took care of that. But he's become a mini-version of Norman at Augusta, finishing second twice and the Top 10 on two other occasions without winning.

"I'm very happy for Jose," said Love, who closed with a 1-under-par 71 in the brutally difficult conditions. "Anything else will sound like sour grapes, but I'm also very disappointed I didn't win. I left a lot of shots out there."

In 1995, Love was also a footnote in Masters history. He finished just one shot behind Ben Crenshaw, but everyone remembers Gentle Ben tapping in his bogey putt at 18, then breaking down in tears and dedicating the victory to his beloved teacher, Harvey Penick, who died a week earlier.

This time, at least, Love provided a shot they couldn't ignore.

Trailing Olazábal by two strokes as he came to the par-3 16th, Love struck his tee shot into the rough that borders the left side of the deeply sloping green, behind the hole. Needing to get up and down to have any chance, he pitched his ball about 10 feet wide of the flag and some 20 feet past the hole.

From there, the ball did a U-turn and headed slowly down a ridge toward the cup, finally dropping in after several tantalising seconds for a birdie.

It was the kind of signature shot that always seems to accompany a Masters champion. Love pumped his fists while the gallery roared in admiration and amazement, certainly loud enough for Olazábal and Norman to hear, playing just behind in the final group.

"When that went in, I ran up the hill toward the 17th tee and everyone was screaming," Love said. "They were all excited and shocked, and I wanted them to keep screaming so the people behind would know that something great had happened."

Unfortunately for Love, he didn't have another great shot in his repertoire. He felt fortunate to escape 17 with a par, knowing a birdie was practically impossible -- only two were made all day -- because of the rock-hard greens and tortuous pin placement.

At 18, Love landed his second shot about 20 feet right of the hole, giving himself a chance to put the pressure on Olazábal with a birdie. But the putt, similar to the one Mark O'Meara made a year ago to win the green jacket, slid by the hole.

Love settled for par and knew he had squandered his final chance to catch the Spaniard.

"I hit the putt a little too hard and pushed it," he said. "I felt like I had to make the putt at 18 to give me a chance."

Love was born a day after his late father finished tied for 31st at the 1964 Masters, and it's apparent that no other tournament stirs his emotions quite the same way.

In his eyes, the most exciting -- and terrifying -- steps in golf are through Amen Corner on a Sunday afternoon in April, the wind whipping through the pine trees as if the ghost of Bobby Jones wants to ensure no one gets the best of his golf course.

During that three-hole stretch in the far reaches of the course, Love hit the one shot he would like to have back. Grabbing a 3-wood out of his bag at 13, he snap-hooked his tee shot into the creek that runs along the left side of the fairway.

He had to take a drop and managed to scramble for a par with a 25-foot putt. But that was a hole where three of the day's five eagles were made, along with 23 birdies, so Love knew he had let one or two shots get away.

"A bad swing at the wrong time on this course will kill you," he moaned. "But this is a step in the right direction. Four or five guys will say they could have won, and I'm one of them.

"It's disappointing, but I will build on it."