Back in the Thick of Things


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – It wasn’t 'Old Timers'' day at TPC Steamy on Friday, but to track the 7:47 a.m. three-ball off the first tee, there were times when it appeared the PGA Tour had trotted out some golden oldies to spice up the proceedings.

David Toms, the father of two and a whole lot further from the start of his career than he is to the end, may be a spry 44 years young, but as he covered the former swampland alongside Jason Day and Anthony Kim he would have been forgiven if he went back to his hotel room Friday night and applied for an AARP card.

In context, Toms turned pro two years before Day was born and won his only major, the 2001 PGA Championship, before Kim was out of middle school.

“You go from talking about your kids and stuff going on at home to talking about if they’d want to have any or whatever,” Toms smiled. “It’s pretty funny.”

What’s not so funny is the precision with which Toms dissected the Stadium Course on Day 2.

At the May Players you can keep your bomb-and-gouge; Toms will take the plod-and-putt route.

Wielding a pinpoint driver and near-perfect putting stroke, Toms has hit 24 of 28 fairways (first in the field) and 29 of 36 greens in regulation (T-4) on a golf course that mitigates the bombing set with twisting, hard fairways and hazards . . . well, everywhere. Consistency thy name is Toms.

Not that this schtick is anything new to Toms. He carved out what many consider a Hall-of-Fame career with a drag bunt. A dozen Tour tilts and a major, although nothing since 2006, attest to his talent and tenacity. That he stands alone atop THE PLAYERS leaderboard through 36 holes at 10 under par after a second-round 68, however, is a testament to experience and his much-improved health.

For years Toms has struggled with various ailments – a wrist surgery, a back injury, a trip to the emergency room during the 2005 84 Lumber Classic with a heart ailment –  and it all conspired to keep the three-time Ryder Cup player off the marquee.

In many eyes, maybe even his own, the game had passed him by. On more than one occasion he lamented new tee boxes from Pebble Beach to Ponte Vedra Beach. But he always maintained that on the right course and with the right conditions he could still compete. TPC Sawgrass is that perfect fit and through two turns he’s proven that theory correct.

On this the statistics don’t lie.

His 280-yard driving average is miles behind his youthful playing mates. Friday on the Stadium’s par-5 16th hole, for example, Toms charged ahead with driver in hand, while Day carved a 3-wood . . . 20 yards past him.

But Tom Watson has proven this point with regularity – good ball striking is eternal.

“I think it was (Paul) Azinger back in the day that said David Toms is one of the best ballstrikers he’s ever come across,” Day said. “After the last two days I believe that. He played wonderfully the last two days and he putted even better.”

After Sunday maybe even Toms will believe, but then he’s long enough in the tooth to know The Players is not won on Friday, particularly given his pedestrian record at the Tour’s flagship stop.

In 18 appearances Toms has just a single top 10 (T-9 in 2009), and he’s not exactly been blazing a trail to the winner’s circle in recent years.

His improved health has certainly helped, as has his rekindled passion for the game thanks to his teenaged son Carter, of all people.

“Playing golf with Carter at home has been big,” said Toms’ longtime caddie Scott Gneiser. “He’s really never played golf with his buddies at home, but now he has a chance to play with his son and he’s really enjoying that.”

Instead of four hours on the practice tee, Toms will now do just 60 or so hard minutes. Smarter, not harder, is the best tonic for a body that has hit far too many 6-irons.

Toms has also become comfortable with his legacy. Asked on Friday if he considered himself a Hall of Famer, the thoughtful Louisiana native took the long view.

“I still have a lot of work to do to get in the Hall of Fame so I’ll just keep playing as long as I can and as long as I enjoy it and when we get to the end see what happens,” he said.

With the PGA Championship scheduled to return later this summer to Atlanta Athletic Club, the site of his 2001 PGA triumph, Toms was asked the whereabouts of the 5-wood he used to ace the 15th hole on Saturday. It’s in a glass case in his trophy room collecting dust and keeping memories.

The man, however, seems to have no interest in going under glass just yet.