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Love ready for return

He's not been heard from much this year, having had little impact in the three tournaments he has completed. Davis Love III, who lost in two playoffs last year and just missed winning the U.S. Open, came out misfiring in 1997.

It was nothing that dropping a few putts couldn't cure, he figured. That dull pain in his back had been there throughout the previous year, so he didn't think much of it.

Until the morning of the third round of the Nissan Open last month. Love was in so much pain he was about to pass out.

He had kidney stones.

"I had a couple of nurses tell me they'd rather have a baby than a kidney stone," Love said Wednesday, a day after he played for the first time since a procedure two weeks ago to have the stones broken up. "I really felt like something was wrong. It will put you on the ground it's so bad. Without pain pills, I couldn't have made it. I couldn't stand it."

Love was hospitalized for a few days in Los Angeles, then returned to his home in Sea Island, Ga., where he went into the hospital for the procedure to have the five stones dissolved.

Originally, he thought he could have the procedure done and play at the Doral Open two weeks ago. "I found out you're not going to play golf when you have this problem," Love said. "It wasn't fun sitting around home. But I got a lot of stuff done. My desk is as neat as it has ever been."

Almost immediately, he said, the back pain was gone. He hit balls for the first time Friday and played 18 holes on Tuesday.

"I'm looking forward to getting going again," said Love, who begins play today in the Bay Hill Invitational, the first of six straight events for him. "This is a great time of year to play golf. The courses are in great shape. This will be a big six weeks for me."

ARNIE TO TEE IT UP: Nine weeks after he had surgery to remove a cancerous prostate, Arnold Palmer returns to competitive golf today at his tournament. Although there have been a few bad days _ such as Tuesday's 84 during the pro-am _ Palmer is generally pleased with how he feels and how his game is progressing.

"I hope I don't embarrass myself," Palmer said Wednesday. "I've done that before, too. It won't be the first time if I do. I feel like I'm hitting the ball reasonably solid. I suppose it's more just having my mind working for me and keeping my concentration. If I can do that, I think I can play some kind of reasonable golf."

As for future events, Palmer said he hopes to play in a few senior tournaments and the Masters next month. "Unless something happens that I don't know about, I will play at Augusta," he said. "That's one certainty."

RYDER CHANGES?: Concerned about the makeup of their team, the Europeans are apparently ready to change the rules in the middle of the game. European PGA Tour players will be asked to vote on doubling the number of captain's choices from two to four for Seve Ballesteros. That would reduce the number of automatic qualifiers on the 12-man team from 10 to eight.

Right now, Nick Faldo, Jesper Parnevik, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ballesteros would not qualify.

Two who stand to lose if the rule is changed are Paul Broadhurst and Sam Torrance, who are ninth and 10th in the points standings.

The European Ryder Cup committee will make the final decision.

AROUND GOLF: Vijay Singh is trying to continue his PGA-leading streak of 28 consecutive cuts made. His last missed cut came in 1995 at the PGA Championship. The Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf announced its U.S. field, which will compete April 21-22 at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia. British Open champ Tom Lehman will play Scott Hoch, Love takes on Corey Pavin, Fred Couples plays Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson takes on Mark O'Meara. The U.S. winner advances to the final Jan. 3-4 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Japan's Jumbo Ozaki, who turned 50 in January, won the 102nd tournament of his career at the Token Cup on Sunday. He has just one victory outside of Japan, however: the 1972 New Zealand PGA Championship.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.