Toms keeping up with 'different game' by playing within himself

By Ryan LavnerApril 30, 2016, 12:30 am

AVONDALE, La. – One of Scott Gneiser’s most memorable victories came in this city 15 years ago. About 20 miles away, at English Turn, his boss, David Toms, shot 63-64 on the weekend to win in his home state. As they strolled down the 18th fairway, the crowd roared: “LSU! LSU!”

“It gave me goosebumps,” Gneiser said. “It still does, talking about it today.”

Back then, Toms was inarguably one of the best players on the PGA Tour, a consistent force who had average length, a silky putting stroke and a propensity to go on birdie tears. During his 24-year career, he collected 14 titles (including the 2001 PGA) and banked more than $41 million.

For the most part, Toms has remained that same player, but today’s Tour has evolved in unimaginable ways. At age 49, he could be Smylie Kaufman’s father. At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, he is diminutive compared to some of the Tour’s tall trees. And averaging 269 yards off the tee, he might as well be using persimmon. Toms has to hit hybrid so often during a round that Gneiser jokes about re-grooving the clubface after every tournament.

And yet, on a windy day with little roll, Toms shot a 1-under 71 Friday at waterlogged TPC Louisiana – a score, mind you, that was two shots better than last week’s winner, Charley Hoffman, and 10 lower than Kaufman – and isn’t out of this Zurich Classic heading into the weekend. He is just six shots behind.

“He just knows what he’s doing,” Kaufman said afterward. “He’s played the same game for the last 20 years, and he plays that game better than anybody else. It’s very impressive. It’s fun to watch.”

OK, so maybe it’s not all that much fun to watch.

Toms bunts it off the tee. Stays out of trouble. Misses in the proper spot. Never compounds an error. He actually plays a game with which we’re familiar.

“My experience,” Toms said, “is I know what my game allows.”

And give him credit: It’s become clear over the past year that Toms isn’t just playing out the string until he turns 50 and can play against guys his own age, against guys his own size, against guys with his skill set. He still enjoys the heat of competition, even if it doesn’t always feel like a fair fight.

“I enjoy going out there and seeing how I measure up against the young guys,” he said.

Added Gneiser, his trusty caddie for 15 of the past 17 years: “I can still see the fire in his eyes.”

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That fire doesn’t always burn out of frustration.  

By now, Toms is used to playing 480-yard par 4s, laying up on par 5s when his playing partners are reaching with a mid-iron, relying on precision, strategy and guile to survive the cut.

“Some holes are just not birdie holes for me,” Toms conceded, and so when he made par on some of the brutish par 4s Friday, Gneiser turned to his man and quipped: “Nice birdie.”

When asked how many hybrids he hit in the second round, Toms shrugged.

“A bunch,” he said. “I try not to add it up. It’s embarrassing, to be honest with you.”

Oh, but Gneiser remembered. “Probably six or seven,” he said. “A LOT.”

Toms hits it on par 3s. He hits it on par 4s. He even hits it on par 5s … oftentimes, to lay up.

Through two rounds, he has had 14 approaches of 200-plus yards into par 4s. But he’s missed only eight greens through 36 holes, a remarkable achievement, really, considering he’s averaging a miniscule 262 yards off the tee because of the soft conditions. 

“He’s one of the best hybrid players I’ve ever seen,” Gneiser said.

And frankly, Toms needs to be, because the gap between some of his and Kaufman’s drives was so massive, they could fit an Acme Oyster House in between. Like, 50 and 60 yards.

Gneiser was asked whether Toms was frustrated by the demands of today’s Tour.

“Yes and no,” he said. “Just watching these guys hit it so far by us …” Here he paused. “It’s just a different game.”

And so Toms has refined his game, turning his strengths into even more of an advantage. This season, he is ranked first on Tour in both sand saves and scrambling – the byproduct, Gneiser said, of Toms opening his academy in Shreveport and trying to keep up with son Carter, a freshman at LSU.

Maybe Toms isn’t as good of a putter. Maybe he doesn’t go on those four-, five- or six-birdie runs like he used to. Maybe his low rounds aren’t as low.

“But from inside 100 yards,” Gneiser said, “it’s the best I’ve ever seen him.”

Which is why many believe that Toms will mop up on the Champions Tour when he begins a full schedule next January, when he once again will be able to play his own game and have a realistic chance to win.

“I’m hoping it’s a little more low key,” he said. “It’s pretty businesslike out here. You’ve got guys every week that have five or six people with them: trainers, dieticians, shrinks, short-game coaches, long-game coaches, life coaches. I’m out here by myself with my caddie, and that’s how I’ve always liked it.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.