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Toms takes PGA Championship

Mickelson comes up short of first major tournament in thrilling finish

Posted: Monday, August 20, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson had seen it before. He knew what was coming.

Mickelson stood behind the 18th green Sunday at the PGA Championship, not far from the Wanamaker Trophy, watching another guy face a par putt to win a major championship that could have been his.

Two years ago in the U.S. Open, it was Payne Stewart. This time it was David Toms.

The result was the same.

With a conservative decision that could have haunted him the rest of his career, Toms laid up on the 490-yard closing hole and made the decision pay off with a 12-foot par putt to win the PGA Championship.

''I just felt it was my best way to make 4,'' Toms said. ''That's what I had to do, and it worked out just fine.''

It turned into another heartbreaking loss for Mickelson.

The PGA Championship was his second-best chance to shed the burdensome label as the best player to have never won a major.

The other was at Pinehurst, when Stewart also played it safe on the 18th hole by laying up from the rough. He won with a 15-foot par putt.

Mickelson's birdie putt that year just slid by the hole. On Sunday, his 30-footer for a possible victory was headed right for the cup, but stopped 2 inches short.

That set the stage for Toms.

''The first thing that went through my mind was '99 at Pinehurst,'' Mickelson said. ''I had that same feeling as though David's putt was just going to go in, without a doubt.''

Toms didn't doubt it, either.

''When it got halfway there, it was going in,'' he said. ''And it felt great.''

It was Toms' sixth career victory. Mickelson has 19.

Toms earned a spot on his first Ryder Cup team. Mickelson will be on his fourth.

Toms has a major championship. Mickelson has none.

''I think it's a matter of time before he wins his,'' Toms said. ''I wish it could have worked out better for him. For me, it's the highlight of my career, no doubt.''

Mickelson did everything required of him. He shot 68 and posted the lowest 72-hole score in major championship history. Chalk this up to bad timing. He ran into an old foe who did him one stroke better and made one less mistake.

''I certainly -- certainly -- tried hard,'' Mickelson said. ''I was just never able to get ahead.''

Mickelson caught him three times until making one mistake that cost him -- a three-putt from 50 feet on No. 16. He never got another chance.

Toms closed with a 1-under 69 and finished at 265 to break the 72-hole scoring record in majors first set by Greg Norman in the 1993 British Open and matched by Steve Elkington and playoff loser Colin Montgomerie two years later in the PGA.

Mickelson might not have a major, but no one can question his heart. He played with courage and skill and made only one mistake on the back nine, but it cost him.

''I really felt like was a year where my game was going to break through,'' Mickelson said.

Instead, Toms showed him how to get it done on Sunday.

Almost as important as the putt was the decision. Toms' ball was sitting up in the first cut of rough, but it was about a foot above his feet. Water surrounded the green in front and to the left. Toms put back the 5-wood and took out a wedge.

''I hated to do it,'' he said. ''The crowd was over there oohing and ahhing and moaning like, 'You wimp,''' he said. ''I just had to put it out of my mind and hit two good shots and made a good putt. And I did that.''

He could have been bold. He could have tried to end a drama-packed PGA in style.

He could have been Jean Van de Velde, who had a three-stroke lead in the British Open at Carnoustie, went for the glory and wound up a playoff loser.

Instead, Toms put the pressure on himself and proved worthy of a major championship.

It was the seventh time Mickelson had gone into the final round of a major within two strokes of the lead. This, along with Pinehurst, were his best chances.

Both left a massive gallery breathless over a final round filled with clutch putts and wild swings in momentum.

Three times, Mickelson made up a two-stroke deficit. Time and again, he kept in range of Toms by making one critical putt after another, the kind that have cost him in so many other major championships.

Trailing by two with four holes to play, Mickelson's final push came on the par-3 15th, the hardest hole at Atlanta Athletic Club. At the scene of his dramatic ace the day before, Toms deposited this tee shot in a bunker and blasted out weakly to 20 feet. From the first cut of rough, Mickelson used a 60-degree sand wedge to chip his ball toward the hole, and it dropped in the heart.

Mickelson didn't flash that gee-whiz smile that usually accompanies his great shots. He was all business, locked in on winning his first major.

And just like that, it slipped away.

From 50 feet away, Mickelson heard a few fans yell out that the putt was slower than it looked.

''It's disappointing that I was not able to block that out, because I've been focusing very well all week,'' Mickelson said.

He knocked it 6 feet by.

''Stop! Stop!'' he cried.

Then, Phil finally flinched.

He missed the putt on the left side to make bogey, and never got another chance.

Steve Lowery had a 68 and finished three strokes behind at 268 -- and just two strokes short of making the Ryder Cup team.

Toms' victory knocked Tom Lehman out of the top 10 in the standings. Curtis Strange will announce his two captain's picks Monday morning.

Woods, who completed an unprecedented sweep of the majors by winning the Masters, was himself swept away for the third straight major. He closed with an even-par 70 and finished at 279, in a tie for 29th.

It was fifth straight tournament that Woods has finished out of the top 10, the first time that has happened in his career.

''You can't play well all the time ... especially in this sport,'' Woods said. ''I really haven't gotten things to go my way. And on top of that, I really haven't played well.''

Woods was out of the picture, but the enthusiasm didn't go with him. The gallery threw its support behind Mickelson from the time he stepped up to the first tee.

''Today's the day!'' they shouted, as if their support alone could carry Mickelson to a major championship he thought he should have won by now.

After both players made par saves on the opening holes, Mickelson picked up two birdies to tie for the lead. All it took was one hole for his work to come undone.

Mickelson pulled his drive into the thick rough down the right side, came out short of the green and chipped 15 feet past the hole. He two-putted for bogey. Toms hit the fairway, then stuffed his approach shot into about 18 inches for birdie.

Just like that, his lead was back to two shots heading into the back nine, where they picked up an extra partner -- pressure.

Toms missed two short putts that allowed Mickelson to stay in range. In the end, he made the only putt that mattered.



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