David Toms rides TPC high, not low

FORT WORTH, Texas -- David Toms had two choices after missing a 4-foot par putt on the first playoff hole in The Players Championship.

The 44-year-old could take it as a punch to the gut, lament that he didn't take advantage of an opportunity to win what many consider the fifth major and spend the next few weeks recovering from the disappointment. Or he could use the finish as further proof that his game is in excellent shape and use the near-victory as a springboard to a solid summer.

His 8-under-par 62 in Thursday's first round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial put to rest any doubts about how he'd react after last week. He's tied for the lead with Chez Reavie, taking advantage of accessible hole locations and little wind on the classic course.

"I felt like last week was a success," Toms said Thursday. "I held up well. I played great. Sure, I screwed up on the last hole of the golf tournament. But it's happened to a lot of other guys before me as well. I feel pretty good about where I am, and this round will help me a lot and keep me going."

Scott Gneiser, Toms' caddie, wasn't surprised to see Toms shoot a low round.

"He's way too experienced to think of last week any other way than a confidence boost," Gneiser said. "He knows he's playing well. That missed putt didn't change that. Now he's at one of his favorite tournaments at Colonial."

Gneiser should know. The 45-year-old has been Toms' caddie for most of the past 12 years. Like most caddie-player marriages, the pair needed a break a few years ago. It wasn't a divorce, really. More like a separation.

After a year away from each other, they are back together and hoping to rekindle the same magic they had in the early 2000s, when Toms was a fixture at the top of the leaderboard, even winning the 2001 PGA Championship.

On Sunday, Toms showed that he could once again perform under pressure. Needing a birdie on No. 18 to force a playoff with Westlake's K.J. Choi, Toms' drive landed in the fairway ... in a divot.

"He walked up to it and said, 'That's a bad break,'" Gneiser said. "I told him, 'You've hit some of your best shots out of divots.' Then he hits a great shot and we go up to the green, and I told him, 'You've hit putts like this before. Go make it, and let's get this crowd to go crazy.' He smiled and made the putt."

That's the image that Toms took going into this week. He received numerous text messages and emails from family and friends applauding his effort and clutch play on the 18th hole.

"I hope they're patient with me about getting back to them," Toms said.

The swing that helped Toms win that PGA Championship -- with an up-and-down par on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by a stroke -- hasn't changed much. But two things are different: Toms is finally healthy again after dealing with a few injuries, including a balky back, and he's rekindled his love for the game thanks in large part to his 13-year-old son, Carter.

"He'd come home and put his bag away and tend to other things," Gneiser said. "But now Carter wants to go to the course, and David enjoys that time."

Gneiser has seen a difference in Toms' practice regimen, too. A decade ago, Toms might work on his game for four hours after a round or the day before a tournament.

"But it was pretty laid-back," Gneiser said. "Now, he might practice for an hour or two, but it's focused. He gets a lot done in that time."

Toms clearly has his confidence back and knows he can put rough rounds behind him better than he did earlier in his career. That includes last week's finish.

"I think it's experience [that's helped me]," Toms said. "That's probably what's kept me out here for 20 years. It's really about the next shot and being able to do the best you can, whether it's for double-bogey or eagle. That's what it's all about. The guys that do that the best are the ones that perform well week to week. That's what I've always tried to do."

Toms will try to keep his good vibes going. He's made seven consecutive cuts at Colonial, and his best finish was a tie for second in 2002. He has five top-15 finishes in Fort Worth.

Should Toms break through this week and earn his spot on the wall of champions -- not to mention that fashionable plaid blazer -- it would be his first win since 2006.

"I know he can do it, and he does, too," said Gneiser, who also makes a persuasive case for Toms to be a Ryder Cup captain in the future. "Look at how the older players have been playing. He's playing as well as anyone."

Maybe this is the week.

Richard Durrett is a reporter for ESPNDallas.com.