Toms terrific in first round of Wachovia
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTE ó The picture of David Toms in his blue winnerís jacket is just a few feet from Tiger Woodsí smiling mug near the first tee at Quail Hollow Club.
The sun-drenched gallery at the Wachovia Championship knew Woods wasnít around Thursday to defend his title because of knee surgery. Many fans may have completely forgotten about the slumping 2003 champion ó until Toms broke out of his missed-cut, sore-back funk with a 5-under 67 to take the first-round lead.
It was Tomsí best round in, well, he couldnít remember.
iSince a long time. I donít know. I canít even think,î Toms said. iIt makes me feel good about my game. It gives me a little bit of confidence. It wasnít a fluke round.î
Playing in the morning when the greens were still soft from the drenching rain earlier in the week, Toms made eight birdies, including a near ace at the 13th hole, to take a one-shot lead over Phil Mickelson and Jason Bohn.
It was a welcome change for the 2001 PGA Championship winner, whose last victory came more than two years ago. Swinging too hard two months ago at the Match Play Championship caused a disk problem to flare up. He followed that withdrawal with two missed cuts while on pain medication, shot an 80 in the final round of the Masters and tied for 61st at the Verizon Heritage.
Golf wasnít fun anymore for Toms as he pulled into his reserved parking spot for past champions here this week ranked 133rd on the money list and thought about cutting back on his schedule.
iIíve been out here long enough that the only time itís really fun for me is when I have a chance to win and contend in tournaments,î Toms said. iGrinding to make the cut is too much like work. Playing well, I obviously enjoy that a lot more.î
Toms was grinning Thursday when he stood apart from a stacked field that includes 18 of the worldís top 25 players, even with Woods missing his first scheduled event since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Mickelson, in his first tournament since the Masters, showed off his new, longer putter in shooting a 68. He hit 12 of 14 fairways and had only 26 putts with his 35-inch model. Mickelson switched from a 331/2-inch putter because he said heís grown up to an inch after starting his fitness program that includes extensive stretching.
iI havenít had as much soreness after the round in my back,î Mickelson said. iI havenít had any back problems, but just muscular, sore. I think not having to bend over as much might allow me to practice a little bit easier.î
Bohn, like Toms and Mickelson, had an early tee time. He made six birdies in a satisfying round as he works his way back from stress fractures in his ribs suffered last year at the Memorial.
iIím 100 percent healthy, and Iím still trying to shake a little of the rust off my golf game,î Bohn said.
Zach Johnson and Ben Curtis led a group of nine two shots back, while Vijay Singh and Rory Sabbatini were among 11 three off the lead at 70. No one was able to make a charge on Toms late in the day as the course dried out and the greens quickened.
It was another rough day for Masters champion Trevor Immelman. After missing the cut last week at the Byron Nelson Championship, Immelman shot 76 and was buried at the bottom of the leaderboard.
The overnight chill was still in the air when Toms holed a nearly 55-foot birdie putt on the 12th, the third hole of his round. He hit a 5-iron to about 3 inches on No. 13 for another birdie, and suddenly his confidence was soaring.
Toms recovered from a bogey on No. 7, where his ball landed in a sand-filled divot, with consecutive birdies to close only his fifth round in the 60s in his last 36 tries.
While he was realistic about his chances to win, Toms was just happy he finally had something good to talk about.
iFirst of all, you show up at an event and youíre not fired up to play because youíre not getting the results,î Toms said. iThen you go home and everybody has questions for you. It just never stops.î
Toms has tried numerous remedies and received countless tips on how to ease the pain in his back, but for now he is putting off surgery.
iI guess if I was 25 and in perfect shape it wouldnít be that big of a deal. But Iím not either one of those,î the 41-year-old Toms said. iItís just something I have to be smart about ó picking up luggage, kids, not sleeping in a bad position.î
Toms will enter todayís round at one of his favorite courses in an unfamiliar spot. Having not won since the 2006 Sony Open, three more solid days here could change his attitude about the game.
iIíll either get back to a high level or Iím not sure youíll see me as much,î Toms said. iI donít enjoy not playing great golf. Iím secure enough at home with my family and financially to where if Iím not having fun and I feel like itís a struggle physically I wonít continue to do it.î
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