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Archive for Monday, August 20, 2001

Toms takes first major

Clutch putt secures win over Mickelson

August 20, 2001

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— David Toms wasn't interested in being macho. His only concern was beating Phil Mickelson to his first major championship.

Contending for the first time in a major, Toms took the safe route by laying up on the 490-yard closing hole and won the PGA Championship on Sunday with a 12-foot putt that proved far more memorable than his 243-yard ace the day before.

David Toms hoists the walker trophy after winning the PGA
Championship. Toms sank a 12-foot putt on the 18th green to secure
his first major title and deny Phil Mickelson on Sunday in Duluth,
Ga.

David Toms hoists the walker trophy after winning the PGA Championship. Toms sank a 12-foot putt on the 18th green to secure his first major title and deny Phil Mickelson on Sunday in Duluth, Ga.

It gave him a major championship. Mickelson still has none.

"I think it's a matter of time before he wins his. I wish it could have worked out better for him," Toms said. "For me, it's the highlight of my career, no doubt."

Toms could have been bold. He could have hit 5-wood from 210 yards over a lake from a treacherous lie in the rough and win the drama-packed PGA Championship in style.

He could have been Jean Van de Velde.

Instead, Toms put the pressure on himself and proved worthy of a major championship.

"I just felt it was my best way to make 4," Toms said. "That's what I had to do, and it worked out just fine."

Phil Mickelson rubs his forehead after missing a birdie putt on the
18th hole of the PGA Championship. Mickelson finished second by a
stroke on Sunday.

Phil Mickelson rubs his forehead after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole of the PGA Championship. Mickelson finished second by a stroke on Sunday.

In the process, he saddled Mickelson with another heartbreaking loss in a major, and eight more months facing questions of whether he can win a major.

Mickelson did everything required of him. He shot 68 and posted the lowest 72-hole score in his major championship history. Chalk this up to bad timing. He ran into an old foe who did him one stroke better and made one less mistake.

"I certainly certainly tried hard," Mickelson said. "I was just never able to get ahead."

Mickelson caught him three times until making one mistake that cost him a three-putt from 50 feet on No. 16.

Toms never gave him another chance.

He closed with a 1-under 69 and finished at 265 to break the 72-hole scoring record in majors first set by Greg Norman in the 1993 British Open and matched by Steve Elkington and playoff loser Colin Montgomerie two years later in the PGA.

Mickelson still doesn't have a major, but no one can question his heart.

He played with courage and skill and made only one mistake on the back nine, but it cost him the major he covets.

Earlier this year, Toms overcame a six-stroke deficit against Mickelson to beat him in New Orleans. This finish was head-to-head, far more thrilling, and reminded Mickelson of another major that slipped away.

Two years ago in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Payne Stewart had a one-stroke lead going into the 18th when he decided to lay up with a wedge instead of risking a full shot out of the rough that could have gone anywhere.

Stewart made a 15-foot putt for par to win.

"I had that same feeling, as though David's putt was just going to go in without a doubt," Mickelson said.

Almost as important as the putt was the decision.

Toms' ball was sitting up in the first cut of rough, but it was about a foot above his feet. Water surrounded the green in front and to the left. Toms put back the 5-wood and took out a wedge.

"I hated to do it," he said. "The crowd was over there oohing and ahhing and moaning like, 'You wimp,"' he said. "I just had to put it out of my mind and hit two good shots and made a good put. And I did that."

Too bad Van de Velde didn't do that in the British Open at Carnoustie. With a two-shot lead on the 18th tee, he went for it all and came out a playoff loser.

Just like Stewart, Toms knew the winning putt was good halfway to the hole.

So did Mickelson.

"To have a little sand wedge in there is the shot we feel most comfortable with," Mickelson said. "If we can't get it up eight times out of 10, we're not playing well."

Along with winning $936,000 and the prized Wanamaker Trophy, the sixth victory of Toms' career earned him a spot on his first Ryder Cup team.

Mickelson is now 0-for-34 in the majors since he turned professional 10 years ago. It only seems longer because of his success a PGA Tour victory as an amateur, 19 in all, second among active players to only Tiger Woods.

The only thing missing is a major.

It was the seventh time Mickelson had gone into the final round of a major within two strokes of the lead. This, along with Pinehurst, were his best chances.

Both left a massive gallery breathless over a final round filled with clutch putts and wild swings in momentum.

Three times, Mickelson made up a two-stroke deficit. Time and again, he kept in range of Toms by making one critical putt after another, the kind that have cost him in so many other major championships.

Trailing by two with four holes to play, Mickelson's final push came on the par-3 15th, the hardest hole at Atlanta Athletic Club.

At the scene of his dramatic ace the day before, Toms deposited this tee shot in a bunker and blasted out weakly to 20 feet. From the first cut of rough, Mickelson used a 60-degree sand wedge to chip his ball toward the hole, and it dropped in the heart.

Mickelson didn't flash that gee-whiz smile that usually accompanies his great shots. He was all business, locked in on winning his first major.

And just like that, it slipped away.

From 50 feet away, Mickelson heard a few fans yell out that the putt is slow. He couldn't block it out of his mind, and knocked 6 feet by.

"Stop! Stop!" he cried.

Then, Phil finally flinched.

He missed the putt on the left side to make bogey, and never got another chance.

Steve Lowery had a 68 and finished three strokes behind at 268 and just two strokes short of making the Ryder Cup team.

Toms' victory knocked Tom Lehman out of the top 10 in the standings. Curtis Strange will announce his two captain's picks Monday morning.

Mark Calcavecchia had a 65 and tied for fourth with Shingo Katayama, who had more adventures with the water and closed with a 70.

Woods, who completed an unprecedented sweep of the majors by winning the Masters, was himself swept away for the third straight major. He closed with an even-par 70 and finished at 279, in a tie for 29th.

It was fifth straight tournament that Woods has finished out of the top 10, the first time that has happened in his career.

"You can't play well all the time ... especially in this sport," Woods said. "I really haven't gotten things to go my way. And on top of that, I really haven't played well."

Woods was out of the picture, but the enthusiasm didn't go with him. The gallery threw its support behind Mickelson from the time he stepped up to the first tee.

"Today's the day!" they shouted, as if their support alone could carry Mickelson to a major championship he thought he should have won by now.

After both players made par saves on the opening holes, Mickelson picked up two birdies to tie for the lead. All it took was one hole for his work to come undone.

Mickelson pulled his drive into the thick rough down the right side, came out short of the green and chipped 15 feet past the hole. He two-putted for bogey. Toms hit the fairway, then stuffed his approach shot into about 18 inches for birdie.

Just like that, his lead was back to two shots heading into the back nine, where they picked up an extra partner pressure.

Toms missed two short putts that allowed Mickelson to stay in range. In the end, he made the only putt that mattered.

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