HONOLULU -- The swing remains mechanically sound, and plenty powerful. And for the first time in two years, Davis Love III feels like just another player.
It wasn't until he arrived for the final PGA Tour event of last year that Love realized his two years as Ryder Cup captain had taken a toll. When he wasn't playing golf, he was going around the country promoting golf's version of the Super Bowl. In the final months leading up to the matches, his thoughts were consumed with four picks and his pairings, and he lost track of how much time he spent with the media.
The Sony Open, which was born as the Hawaiian Open, joined the PGA Tour in 1965, when Gay Brewer defeated Bob Goalby in a playoff.
''I felt at the end of the year, it hit me that I'd had a long year,'' Love said. ''I kept saying that it was not distracting me from playing, but it was. It was more mental. I put so much thought into it, and then there's the media and business stuff the PGA of America puts on you.''
Not that he had any complaints, except for the outcome that Sunday at Medinah when Europe rallied to win.
Love turns 49 in April, a time he should be winding down his career and perhaps thinking about the Champions Tour. But there were a couple of moments late last season that caused him to think differently.
He played three rounds with Vijay Singh -- who turns 50 next month -- in the Frys.com Open. Both felt more than capable of competing with players their sons' ages.
And then came the PNC Father-Son Challenge with his son, Dru, a freshman at Alabama.
''They had this deal at the Father-Son where they asked you the most played song on your iPod, your dream foursome and there's one that you had to say how old you thought you were,'' he said. ''I always feel 39. I feel like I'm getting older, but I still have that drive and that enthusiasm. Sure, I feel a little bit stiffer and it takes me a little bit longer to get going. But I still feel like I have enough power.''
Love is in the field at the Sony Open, which starts Thursday as the first full-field event of the PGA Tour season. It's the start of a full year for him in which he plans to play up to 25 tournaments, just like he has for years.
Even with the Ryder Cup hanging over him, Love still managed to give himself a pair of chances to win last year, including his own tournament, the McGladrey Classic, where he shared the 54-hole lead with Jim Furyk and closed with 71 to tie for fourth. He tied for third earlier in the year at the St. Jude Classic and was 100th on the money list.
In his 27 years on the PGA Tour, Love has never finished out of the top 100 on the money list, a remarkable streak.
But he feels he can do better. And least that's what his son tells him.
''I had chances of would have, could have should have,'' Love said. ''But as Dru Love said, I need a little more practice. I need to be a little bit more prepared. He told me, 'Dad, for two years you've been really busy and you really haven't practiced that much. You're hitting it great, but your short game needs work.'
''I have played a lot,'' Love said. ''But I'm not prepared for it.''
The Sony Open is a lot like spring training in baseball -- the fresh breeze off the Pacific is filled with optimism for everyone from the rookies to the veterans.
''The fun part about this week is that everyone is in a good mood,'' Jeff Maggert said Wednesday. ''They're not complaining about how they've been playing.''
Love will play next week in the Humana Challenge, and is contemplating three straight weeks with the Phoenix Open, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and perhaps Riviera. He is a two-time winner at Pebble Beach, one of his favorite events. He said tournament officials are working on giving him an Augusta National member as his amateur partner -- former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
He is eligible only for the PGA Championship as a past winner, but said he will try to qualify for the U.S. Open and British Open, just like his younger days.
''We did it when we were 20,'' he said. ''Why wouldn't you do it now?''
This won't be easy. Even if he still feels 39, he will be going up against players who are even younger than that. Dustin Johnson, 28, is coming off a season-opening win at Kapalua, making him the first player since Tiger Woods to win in six straight seasons after leaving college.
There are 23 rookies in the Sony Open, and five of them have never played a PGA Tour event.
Love already has 20 wins, making him a lifetime member of the PGA Tour. He would appear to be a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame, especially after longtime friend Fred Couples -- with only 15 wins and one major -- was elected this year.
Can he keep winning? Love figures his opportunities are dwindling, but they are still there.
''If I get into that mode without a lot of distraction and if I'm prepared,'' Love said. ''That's what makes Tiger so good. He's ready every time he shows up. Now, coming out of the snow, I'm not quite ready. But the rest of the year, I'm going to be ready when I show up.''