Sunday, March 29

Unassuming Toms lost in the crowd
By David Kraft

CHASKA, Minn. -- Fans flock to see Tiger Woods. They crane their necks to see Ernie Els. They point and whisper when Phil Mickelson walks by.

With that pairing tomorrow, all eyes will be on those two guys (Tiger Woods and Ernie Els). Maybe I can sneak up on them.
-- David Toms

Jesper Parnevik gets noticed for his clothes. John Daly is famous for his drives. Tom Lehman is hounded here because everybody in Minnesota seems to think they know him.

If not for wearing the unmistakable wardrobe of a professional golfer, David Toms could buy a hot dog this week at Hazeltine National and scarcely draw a second glace.

And he's the defending champ.

"That's a good thing," he said Wednesday. "I still have a life. I can come and go as I please."

He can, though Toms' golf life changed dramatically when he won the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club last year. His famous lay-up shot from the short rough at the 490-yard 18th hole, followed by a wedge to within 12 feet and par putt to edge Phil Mickelson, made Toms wealthy and famous beyond his wildest imagination.

But a year later, the 35-year-old Toms insists he's still the same guy who follows LSU football and lives in Shreveport, La. He gets recognized in public a little more -- a fan ran him down and stared a week ago at the Dallas airport, prompting Toms to ask the man if he wanted anything -- but for the most part he's just a guy with seven PGA Tour wins and $2.2 million in the bank this year.

"I'm just a normal person," Toms insists.

He wasn't normal last year in Atlanta. His 5-wood for a hole-in-one in Saturday's third round vaulted him into a two-shot lead over Phil Mickelson after 54 holes. Paired with Lefty on Sunday, he matched him shot for shot to the back nine, and took a one-shot lead to 18.

Toms hit what he thought was a perfect drive, but the ball trickled into the rough. Mickelson was in the middle of the fairway. Toms, faced with a 3-iron or 5-wood over water to a baked-out green, decided to lay up.

Some fans booed. Toms said he didn't want to lose his title hopes on one bad hole. So he laid up to 88 yards. And hit a perfect wedge. And a perfect put. And won.

"It really hit home with a lot of people," Toms said, "and people will remember that for a long time."

Because of that shot, Toms gets to play with Masters and U.S. Open champ Tiger Woods, and British Open champ Ernie Els, in the featured pairing the first two days. The threesome tees it up at 9:35 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Toms knows he can't hit the ball as far as Woods and Els, so he's determined not to get caught trying. He knows he won't draw the same kind of gallery as Woods and Els, so he's even thinking of asking his wife to watch on TV rather than get caught in the hoard.

As a fan of golf, however, he says he'll watch his playing partners

"I enjoy watching great golf and I think I will see a lot of that," Toms said.

And if Toms can match Woods and Els, it's a reasonable assumption he'll be in the chase for the lead.

"With that pairing tomorrow, all eyes will be on those two guys," Toms said. "Maybe I can sneak up on them."

Sneak up on people? The PGA champ? A year later, David Toms still can.

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