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Toms stumbles at 18, but earns first title since 2001

5/14/2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- All that matters is that David Toms won the Wachovia Championship for his first victory in nearly 20 months.

All anyone wanted to talk about was the way he finished.

Toms was so dominant over four days on a difficult golf course that he could have made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the 18th hole and still won. He made an 8.

"My game plan to was make a birdie and finish off in style,''
Toms said Sunday after closing with a 1-over 73 for a two-shot
victory at Quail Hollow. "I went from being in total control and
picking my targets to trying to hang on and finish.''

In a sloppy finish to an otherwise spectacular week, Toms raised his arms in mock triumph after making a mockery of the final hole.

He didn't look anything like the guy who built a five-stroke lead going into the final round and never let anyone closer than three strokes until the very end.

His drive went 50 yards off line and into the trees. He tried to chip back toward the fairway and went into a hazard, just short of the creek. He laid up short of the green, then took four putts to get down from 45 feet.

Toms knows he'll hear about it from his peers.

''They're going to realize that I played a great round of golf until that last hole,'' he said. ''And they're going to stick it to me a little bit for the way I finished. But that's fine. I can take it. I've got the trophy and that big check.''

The bottom line was his 10-under 278, good enough for a two-stroke victory over Vijay Singh (68), Robert Gamez (70) and Brent Geiberger (69). Toms won $1,008,000, the largest payoff among his eight PGA Tour victories.

Gamez knew it was over when he three-putted for bogey on the par-5 10th, which dropped him five strokes behind.

As he spoke, Gamez glanced up at the television and watched Toms take his final two putts from 3 feet for an inauspicious ending to Charlotte's first PGA Tour event in 24 years.

Gamez smiled.

''It's tough seeing that,'' he said. ''If I could have done
anything on the back ...''

Still, he knows that final hole only mattered in the record
books. Gamez won his first PGA Tour event at Tucson in 1990 by four
strokes, despite a double bogey on the last hole.

''You just let your guard down,'' he said. ''And 18 is not a
hole where you can let your guard down. But he obviously putted
well all week.''

Despite how it ended, this victory was important. Toms had not
won since the Michelob Championship in October 2001, toward the end
of a breakthrough year in which he won three times, including the
PGA Championship.

He has been grinding ever since, frustrated by 11 finishes in
the top five in his last 41 tournaments. Each close call only made
his burden heavier.

''I finally got that monkey off my back,'' he said. ''It will be
a week that I'll remember for a long time, just because of the way
I played golf. It wasn't a fluke that I won, because I felt like I
played great golf all week.''

He put it all together at Quail Hollow and gave the inaugural
Wachovia Championship a worthy winner. The PGA Tour returned to
Charlotte for the first time since the 1979 Kemper Open, and this
tournament got rave reviews -- even from those who missed the cut.

Some players said Quail Hollow was good enough to host a major
championship.

Indeed, the final hole was reminiscent of Jean Van de Velde in
the 1999 British Open, when he made a comical triple bogey on the
18th hole at Carnousite and eventually lost in a three-man playoff.

Toms still got to hold the crystal trophy and cash a
seven-figure check.

Lost amid the wacky finish was his great play, especially with a
33-minute rain delay and a couple of players who tried to make a
run at him.

Nick Price closed with a 70. He and Gamez applied the most
pressure, both getting within three strokes of the lead on the
front nine.

Singh, who made 24 birdies at Quail Hollow, was at 10 under and
four strokes behind when he tried to go at the pin on the
peninsula-green 17th and landed in the water, taking a double
bogey.

Gamez played like he had nothing to lose and went after the
pins, making birdie on the first two holes. Toms was in the right
bunker when Gamez made his second birdie, and he was in danger of
having his five-stroke lead reduced to two after one hole.

But he blasted out to 4 feet and saved par, and never gave
anyone else much hope. Even when he appeared to be in trouble, Toms
kept his cool.

From under the trees on the third hole, he choked down on a
6-iron and kept the ball beneath the branches with a soft swing,
running it up to 15 feet for birdie.

With Gamez and Price closing in on the lead, Toms answered with
a nice two-putt from 80 feet on the par-5 seventh, then added a
10-foot birdie on the 10th hole.

As Toms walked up the ninth fairway, a fan called out, ''C'mon
David, come back to the field a little bit and make it close.''

It never was, even though the final margin made it look that
way.

Notes
Masters champion Mike Weir had a 69 but remained
confounded by his putting. He had 119 putts this week, 15 more than
when he won at Augusta National. Weir said he might withdraw from
the Byron Nelson Classic next week to work on his game, then play
three in a row, concluding with the U.S. Open. ... Fred Couples,
one stroke out of the lead going into the weekend, finished with
rounds of 74-76 while coping with a sore back. He tied for 34th.