Toms Halfway Home to Title Defense


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Defending champion David Toms fired an 8-under 63 on Friday to take the lead midway through the St. Jude Classic. He stands at 12-under-par 130 and leads by one over first-round leader Vaughn Taylor.
Ben Crane is alone in third place at 7-under-par 135 after a second-round 65.
John Daly (65), Paul Stankowski (69), Tim Herron (64) and Ted Purdy (64) are knotted in fourth at minus-6.
Heavy wind and difficult course conditions at the TPC at Southwind greeted the players in Thursday's opening round. Friday was a different story as overnight rain softened the course and the wind was down considerably.
Toms took advantage of the benign conditions quickly with a 6-footer for birdie at the second. He followed that with a spectacular eagle at three when the defending champion hit a 3-wood to 3 feet.
The 2001 PGA Champion missed the green with his second shot at the par-5 fifth, but chipped his third to 10 feet. Toms rolled home that birdie putt then drained a 12-foot birdie putt at the sixth.
Toms was in first place when he made the turn and got to 10 under par when he wedged his approach to 10 feet at the 12th. After that birdie, Toms parred the next three before a 6-footer for birdie at No. 16.
The defending champion's 7-iron approach at 18 looked to be right of the green, but the ball took a great hop and stopped 6 feet from the stick. Toms holed that putt to polish off his amazing 63.
'I wouldn't say I ever really struggled any during the round, but I lost my momentum during the round,' said Toms. 'It was a great day. We had a lot of birdies in our group. Bob Estes birdied the last seven holes after a triple bogey on 11. We fed off each other the whole time and had a good day.'
Toms posted his 10th consecutive round in the 60s at Southwind and appears to have recovered from early-season wrist surgery.
'Earlier in my career I didn't play here very well, but it seems like the more I've played the better I've played,' said Toms, whose last victory after holding the 36-hole lead came in Atlanta at the 2001 PGA Championship. 'I just never found the form that I had the last few years. I've been working hard on my game, maybe at times a little too hard.'
Toms has the history here, is a major winner and a top-20 player in the world, so it's no surprise he is succeeding here. His closest competitor is a different story.
Taylor, a tour rookie whose best finish this season was a tie for 25th at the Buick Invitational, shocked the golf world taking the first-round lead on Thursday. His play on Friday might have been a bigger surprise.
He reached the green in two at the par-5 third and had a good look at eagle from 12 feet. Taylor missed his eagle try, but tapped in for birdie. He made it back-to-back birdies with a 4-footer at the fourth.
Taylor tallied his third birdie in four holes at No. 6 when he chipped in from off the green. He parred the next six holes around the turn, but returned to his birdie ways at No. 13.
Taylor knocked a 9-iron to 12 feet to set up birdie and he recorded two birdies in a row from the 15th to get within one of Toms' lead.
'I played really well today,' said Taylor, who shot a 6-under 65 on Friday. 'I try to not think about what's going on, what's happening, just that it's me and the ball, and I'm just out there playing golf.'
Rich Beem, who followed Toms as the PGA Champion in 2002, posted a 7-under 64 and is tied for eighth place with Steve Allan (67), Hirofumi Miyase (69), Brian Gay (66) and Tripp Isenhour (67). That group stands at 5-under-par 137.
The 36-hole cut fell at 1-over-par 143 and among the notable player who will miss the weekend are: Paul Azinger (145), reigning PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel (150) and this year's Doral champion Craig Parry (150).
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