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Toms uses ace, scoring record to lead PGA Championship

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson has been in this position before. Six times in a major championship, he has gone into the final round within two strokes of the lead, denied by players like Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart and Ben Crenshaw.

David Toms doesn't have their credentials. That doesn't make him any less a problem.

With an amazing ace to snatch the lead and a 35-foot birdie on the last hole to set a major championship scoring record, Toms had a 5-under 65 on Saturday to build a two-stroke lead over Mickelson in the PGA Championship.

''I know I have the game for it,'' Toms said. ''I guess this time tomorrow we'll find out.''

Mickelson already knows.

Just three months ago, Toms overcame a six-stroke deficit in New Orleans to steal the Compaq Classic away from Mickelson with a final-round 64.

''That's something I still remember, and I would very much like to steal one from him,'' Mickelson said. ''He had the game to shoot 64 and beat me, and I'm going to be trying to make amends.''

Toms made a hole-in-one with a 5-wood from 243 yards on No. 15, the ball bouncing three times before it lapped up the base of the flagstick and dropped. It might not have been the shot heard 'round the world, but it gave him a shot at his first major.

''Sooner or later, he's going to win a major,'' Toms said. ''If I keep playing well, I'm going to win one, too. I don't see why tomorrow can't be that day.''

Toms finished at 196, breaking the 54-hole scoring record for majors last set by Ernie Els (197) in the 1995 PGA Championship at par-71 Riviera.

''I think I'm capable of winning,'' said Toms, who has never been in contention going into the last round of a major. ''I showed that today, because I hung in there early when I didn't have my game, and I finished up strong.''

While this is new territory for Toms, Mickelson has far more experience playing the back nine Sunday with a major championship on the line. Then again, they have one thing in common -- neither has won a major.

''I think it's a push,'' Toms said.

Mickelson did his part Saturday.

Despite a sloppy double bogey and two mistakes on treacherous par 3s down the stretch, his eight birdies gave him his third consecutive 66 and yet another chance to win a major.

He wanted to be leading -- preferably by a lot -- and was headed in that direction until a three-shot swing on the 15th.

Mickelson missed the green to the left and chipped 10 feet past the hole, two-putting for a bogey. As he walked down the adjacent 16th fairway, he heard the roar.

Toms hit a 5-wood that sent the crowd into a frenzy, a hole in one that took him from one stroke behind to a one-stroke lead.

''I didn't know it was in until the people behind the green jumped up out of the stands,'' Toms said. ''It was quite a sight.''

Chants of ''Go, Tigers!'' followed Toms along Atlanta Athletic Club, which should sound familiar to Mickelson. Toms played for the LSU Tigers, and that's what Mickelson heard at New Orleans.

As for that other Tiger?

Woods provided his share of thrills. He holed a 103-yard shot from the fairway on No. 9 for an eagle that made him wonder if he still had a shot to win his third straight Wanamaker Trophy.

Bogeys on the last two holes answered that question. He finished with a 69 and was 13 strokes out of the lead by the time Toms was finished.

It might not be a two-man race on Sunday.

Shingo Katayama didn't ride off into the sunset with that goofy cowboy hat. He had a 69, saving par on the last hole after his approach splashed out of the water and safely into the rough on the other side.

He was at 200, along with Steve Lowery (66).

David Duval might be hitting the ball as well as anyone this week, but the British Open champion has been haunted by his putter. Duval missed an 18-inch par putt on No. 6 and hit a chip shot about that distance on the 18th to make bogey.

He still managed a 67 and was at 201.

Davis Love III matched Toms' 65 for the low round of the day, but he was still seven strokes back at 203.

Mickelson will be playing in the final group at a major for the second time this year. He never had a chance against Woods at the Masters, but this could be his time to shed the label as the best golfer never to have won a major.

He has made 16 birdies and an eagle, and the damage has been minimal.

He took double bogey early on by chopping up the third hole with a questionable decision, trying to scale a row of trees from the deep rough. He didn't get far, hitting his next wedge over the green.

But there was no fold in Phil.

He answered with two birdies, and then appeared to be on the verge of running away from the field -- just the way he said he had intended to do.

A wedge on No. 9 into 3 feet for birdie. Another wedge into No. 11 that stopped inside a foot from the hole. A 2-footer on No. 12 and then his best shot of the day on No. 14, the ball hopping once and hitting the base of the flag before stopping inches away.

''I have some ground to make up, but I certainly like the position,'' Mickelson said.

It could have been better, except for one incredible shot.

Toms stared his 5-wood all the way to the hole, threw his hands in the air and turned into a Tiger -- the high-five, the fist pump and a whooping yell.

''That was pretty timely,'' Toms said.

Mickelson wasn't sure what happened. It sounded a lot like the roar he heard for his own shot on No. 14 that popped out of the hole. Either way, he wasn't shaken. He stuck a wedge into 3 feet for birdie to reclaim a share of the lead.

Mickelson gave back a shot on the 17th with a tee shot that went into the deep rough. The best he could do was chop out to 20 feet and two-putt for bogey, but a par on the 18th left him in great position to claim that elusive major.

Besides, it could have been much worse.

The closing holes killed so many other chances, not only to contend for the PGA Championship but to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

Chris DiMarco, 11th in the standings, played the final four holes in 3 over to shoot 71, leaving him seven strokes out of the lead and in need of a strong Sunday to get into the top 10 -- a must if he wants to overtake Tom Lehman.

Toms probably needs a fourth-place finish to make his first Ryder Cup team.

That can wait. With an amazing ace and a nice finishing touch, there's a major championship to be won.



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