- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

DULUTH, Ga. Another David became a golf goliath at the 83rd PGA Championship.
Thanks to a decision that was as gutsy as it was conservative, 34-year-old Tour veteran David Toms handed Phil Mickelson another major disappointment yesterday, clipping Lefty by one stroke to win his first major title at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
"Even though I had a blast this whole week, I'm just glad it's over," said Toms (15 under) after out-dueling Mickelson with the lowest stroke-total in major championship history (265). "I'm somewhat shocked that it actually happened to me, but I'm also really proud of myself for finishing it off like I did."
The way Toms finished off the battle of Atlanta is already the stuff of Grand Slam lore. Playing with Mickelson in the day's final pairing, Toms began at 14-under with a two-stroke lead over the world's No. 2 player. Nobody else in the field ever really factored in the finale. But like Tiger Woods and Bob May last year, the Toms/Mickelson war for the Wanamaker Trophy was absolutely riveting from the first tee onward.
Three times, Mickelson battled from two back to draw level with the Louisiana native and LSU grad, the last coming on a brilliant 35-foot chip-in for birdie at the 15th which squared the duo at 15 under. But as has been his habit throughout his career, Mickelson made a pivotal mental error at the 16th, chasing an overly aggressive 45-foot approach putt eight feet past the hole and just pushing the comebacker to put Toms back in command. After a pair of ho-hum pars at the 17th, the tournament turned, as many had guessed it would, on AAC's brutish, 490-yard, water-guarded, par-4 closing hole.
Hitting first from the tee, Toms slightly pushed his drive into the first cut of rough, leaving himself 210 yards of carry off a hanging, downhill lie guaranteed to yield no spin.
"There was no possible way I could stop that ball on the green," said Toms, who was greeted with a chorus of boos from the gallery when he put his 5-wood back in the bag after inspecting the lie, pulled a pitching wedge and laid up 88 yards from the hole. "I hated to lay up. The crowd was over there oohing and aahing and moaning like 'you wimp,' but I just had to go ahead and put it out of my mind and hit the two shots. I wanted a perfect lob wedge in, and I could not have set it up any better. I hit a nice, spinning L-wedge up there about 12 feet."
Mickelson, meanwhile, had played the hole in textbook fashion, hitting a 3-wood and 6-iron 25 feet right of the pin. While Toms was eyeing his 12-footer for par, Mickelson putted first, making a perfect read and a near-perfect stroke on his Titleist that the golf gods saw fit to halt four inches short of the cup.
"The first thing that went through my mind was Pinehurst," said Mickelson, referring to his most-painful, near-miss at the majors.
In the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Mickelson was stung by Payne Stewart's up-and-down par putt from 15 feet after narrowly missing a tying birdie bid of his own. Yesterday, Mickelson's Putter Boy nightmare returned in the form of Toms.
"I had that same feeling, as though David's putt was just going to go in without a doubt," said the 31-year-old Mickelson. "To his credit, it was a heck of a putt."
Toms took almost no time over his 12-footer, simply stepping up and driving a Louisiana lightning bolt through Lefty's oft-pierced heart.
"To be honest with you, I was not shaking. I felt good about it," said Toms, who had missed a pair of three-footers earlier. "I turned to my caddie and I said, 'I've got this putt here, and these are the ones you are supposed to have to make to win a major, especially your first one.' … I guess it was just supposed to happen."
Perhaps Mickelson feels precisely the same way after suffering yet another crippling defeat in his odyssey to win a first major. In the final analysis, it's impossible to bash Mickelson for his play all week. Sure, he three-putted the 16th, but he also charged from behind three times. He sank a bevy of huge, mid-range putts, chipped-in on the hardest par-3 on the planet, shot 68 on Sunday and finished with the second-lowest aggregate score in major championship history.
"I know the offseason is going to be long, because this was the year where I really felt like my game was going to allow me to break through," said Mickelson, who now has 14 top-10s in the majors without any serious hardware. "I felt like this was certainly the year where I was going to win a major… . I felt as though I played well enough to win the tournament, but David played extremely well. He kept the ball in play and shot under par, which is not the easiest thing to do when you're leading… . I guess that was just the way it was supposed to work out this week."
Perhaps, the world's golf fans should have known exactly that when Toms' 5-wood at the 15th on Saturday slammed into the pin and dropped for an outlandish ace on the 243-yard monster. That one shot, which could have just as easily slipped by the stick and into the back bunker, provided the deciding margin for Toms. And that one shot ultimately proved to be the fatal blow to a player who looks more and more like Greg Norman with each passing major and each passing year.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide