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Love train

Apr 8, 2003 6:41 AM

It’s fashionable this week at the Masters to pick Tiger Woods, blast Martha Burk and support our troops in Iraq. To quote the rock icon Meat Loaf, "Two out of three ain’t bad."

We’re riding the "Love Train" (apologies to the O’Jays). Davis Love III has already won twice on the PGA Tour this year and is playing the best golf of his career. Love is third in scoring average, fifth in putting and first in total driving, par-4 birdies and all-around ranking.

At 10-1, Love is a steal in the futures betting. Of course Woods is the favorite (even money), as he tries to become the first golfer to ever win the coveted Green Jacket three consecutive years.

Woods is also at the top of his game, with three wins and a perfect 5-or-5 in top 25 finishes this season. Tiger has no equal as a frontrunner. All he has to do is get there.

That won’t be easy in a circus environment surrounding Martha and her quest to get "Hootie and the Blowhards" (who we support) to offer a club membership to a woman.

Hopefully this ridiculous sideshow won’t detract from what could be a historic Masters, and we won’t lower ourselves to comment any further on that women’s activist.

Going over the stats, our educated guess is that Love and Woods are among five players with a solid chance of victory. The others (outlined in a Page 18 graphic) are Justin Leonard, Jim Furyk and Fred Couples.

Driving accuracy, putting efficiency and experience are the three key factors at Augusta National. Newcomers don’t win and if you’re not playing well coming into the Masters, forget it. That eliminates Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and David Duval off the top.

The International contingent, led by past Masters champs Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, dominated the event until Woods turned pro. Faldo is enjoying a renaissance to his game and could be in the mix early. Nick Price could factor in late and perhaps the young Justin Rose will make a statement.

Forty-something golfers like Scott Hoch, Jay Haas, Mark O’Meara and Fred Funk may find their way to the first page because veterans often do at Augusta. Despite all the tweaking to make Augusta National fit in with the other 7,100-yard tests of golf, this majestic piece of real estate boils down to patience and guts.

Our sentimental longshot is Couples, a stylish player with a flair for the dramatic. Freddie is playing is best golf in a decade and doesn’t deserved to be lumped into the 5-1 "field." His 113 ranking in driving accuracy, however, could pose problems.

As for Furyk and Leonard, they are steady if not exciting. At 25-1 and 18-1 respectively, this duo is intriguing. Maybe next year, Annika will try this one.