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Toms' 66 gives him commanding five-shot lead

5/11/2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- David Toms felt hot blasts of wind
against his face as he warmed up on the range, and figured anything
under par Saturday would give him a chance at winning for the first
time in 20 months.

He was much better than anyone expected, a 6-under 66 to match
the best score at Quail Hollow and build a five-stroke lead in the
Wachovia Championship.

Now, the question is whether anyone has a chance to catch him.

"He's doing a lot of good things on a very difficult course,''
said J.P. Hayes, among the three guys Toms left in his wake. "Five
shots is not impossible, but it will be difficult.''

Toms chipped in for eagle and played the dangerous finishing
holes in 1 under to pull away from the pack and take a big step
toward his first victory in 42 events.

"When I was on the range, I was thinking about shooting 2 or 3
under, just like the first two days,'' Toms said. "I knew if I
wasn't in the lead, that would at least have a chance.''

Tiger Woods is the only other player this year to lead by as
many as five shots after 54 holes. He went on to win at Bay Hill by
11 strokes despite a nasty stomach virus.

Toms left everyone at Quail Hollow feeling sick.

The former PGA champion was at 11-under 205 and had a big
cushion over Kirk Triplett (67), Robert Gamez (71) and Hayes (72).

"We kept hearing the cheers behind us,'' Gamez said. "I'm just
going to see if I can get some birdies early and put some pressure
on David.''

Nick Price, who led by one going into Saturday, tried to recover
from a sluggish start but consecutive birdies late in the round
still left him at 74.

Price was in a large group at 5-under 211 that included Charles
Howell III, who was only two behind Toms with three holes to play
until back-to-back bogeys.

Fred Couples was happy just to finish his 74, leaving him seven
strokes behind.

Couples, one of five players who had the lead at one point in
the third round, was bending over to read a short par putt on No.
10 when his left knee buckled as he tried to stand. He grabbed his
lower back -- a decade-old injury -- and promptly hooked his next tee
shot into the trees. He was in obvious pain the rest of the round.

"I'm walking and swinging, but it's like a flinch at every
shot,'' Couples said. "I hit a couple of very good shots, but most
of them were pull-hooks. I need to go rest and play much better and
move my way back up.''

Toms was simply too good.

A 5-wood into 12 feet on the 250-yard sixth hole, followed by a
birdie from the greenside bunker on the par-5 seventh gave him the
lead, and he pulled away with a chip from the front of the 10th
green that banged off the stick and dropped for eagle.

"That kind of got me going,'' he said.

After a two-putt birdie on the 15th, Toms separated himself from
the pack with a 7-iron out of the bunker on No. 16 that just
cleared another bunker and settled about 8 feet from the cup for a
rare birdie.

"That surprises me,'' he said when told of his five-stroke
lead. "I guess it means the guys behind me weren't playing that
well.''

Instead, it was a case of Toms being on his game. Now he just
has to finish them off Sunday to win for the first time since the
Michelob Championship in late 2001.

That was the year Toms arrived as one of golf's top players,
winning the PGA Championship at Atlanta with a memorable decision
to lay up on the final hole.

He admits to getting antsy about winning. It has been 41
tournaments since the last time he held a trophy at the end of four
days.

Toms didn't disappear. He has finished in the top five 11 times
since his last victory, and lost on the 35th hole to Woods in the
Match Play Championship earlier this year. Still, no victories has
been nagging at him for over a year.

"It's been a long time for me,'' Toms said. "For guys who
don't quite have the ability of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els or Phil
Mickelson, it isn't easy. I can't be off and win golf
tournaments.''

He appears to be on top of his game this week, and now just
needs another solid round.

Toms will be paired Sunday with Triplett, who shot his 67
earlier in the day and figured it would leave him close to the
lead.

Howell figured to be the closest to Toms when he pounded his
drive on the par-5 15th and looked like he might pull within one
shot. But Howell failed to make birdie, then picked up his first
bogey of the tournament by hitting into the trees on No. 16.

Howell dropped another stroke when his tee shot on the
peninsula-green 17th went through the putting surface and got stuck
between the rocks lining the lake.

Notes
Nick Price had his ball on the tee at the first hole when
he was introduced in the final pairing. "With 15 PGA Tour
victories ...'' Price looked perplexed -- he has won 18 times on
tour. "... Including the 1992 Masters,'' the official continued.
Price looked over at Fred Couples and smiled, then bent over and
plucked his tee from the ground. ... Tournament officials moved up
the tee on the 346-yard 14th hole, so that it measured 299 yards to
the pin, with water down the left side. Nine of the 12 players who
went for the green made birdie; the other three made par. ... CBS
Sports analyst Peter Oosterhuis must have thought he was back in
England when he described the 70-foot birdie putt by J.P. Hayes on
the 17th hole. "It's more than the length of a cricket pitch,'' he
said. The putt either lipped out or hit a wicket.