When David Toms first met Chris DiMarco they were a couple of hotshot golfers from rival colleges.
DiMarco drove a beat-up van painted in Florida Gator orange and blue; Toms, not quite bold enough to paint his car Louisiana State purple and yellow, had a serviceable sedan.
Their modes of transportation have changed since then and their rivalry has blossomed into a close friendship as the two nearly simultaneously developed into successful PGA Tour players, but the desire to beat each other remains the same.
They get the chance today with a little more at stake than beers on the 19th hole.
Toms and DiMarco won two matches in the Accenture Match Play Championship Saturday at La Costa Spa and Resort and will play a 36-hole match for the title and a first-place check of $1.3 million.
“If there was one person I would want to play ... he would be the one,” DiMarco said. “Obviously we’re both going to want to win, but it is going to be hard playing against a good friend. If he wins, I’ll be happy for him.”
DiMarco defeated Toms in the 1989 Southeastern Conference championship and their careers have mirrored each another since.
They turned professional within a year of one another, struggled together in the minor leagues, joined the PGA Tour within two years of one another and last year played on the Ryder Cup team together.
“It’s going to be fun,” Toms said. “We’ve played a lot of golf together over the years. We didn’t come straight out here and win tournaments. We’ve been down the other road.”
Though their career paths are similar, they traveled different roads Saturday at La Costa.
Toms, who joined Tiger Woods as the only players to make the finals twice, continued a week of exceptional ball-striking with back-to-back eagles on Nos. 10 and 11 that gave him control of his 3-and-2 semifinal victory over Ian Poulter.
DiMarco defeated Stewart Cink, 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals and had not trailed in any of his first four matches until he lost the first three holes in his semifinal against Retief Goosen. A grinding, mid-round rally, however, propelled him to a 2-and-1 victory.
The pivotal hole was No. 8, a 569-yard par five. Goosen hit his tee shot into a tree and the ball did not come out. His caddie, Colin Byrne, climbed the tree looking for the ball. He shook a ball loose, but it did not belong to Goosen, who then conceded the hole, and Goosen’s lead was trimmed to 1-up.
DiMarco won Nos. 11 and 13 to take the lead, chipped in from just off the green for birdie on No. 14 for a 2-up lead and closed out the match when Goosen missed a four-foot putt on No. 17.
“I thought I was going to lose 8 and 7 the way it was going,” DiMarco said. “I was trying not to embarrass myself out there. I just said, ‘You have to start believing in yourself and get your confidence back, kick yourself in the butt a little bit and say, let’s go.’ ”
Toms needed no such self-motivating speech. He has hit 62 of 85 greens in regulation and 54 of 65 fairways through his five matches and had a mid-round stretch as good as any.
He played Nos. 9, 10 and 11 in five under par, holing a nine-iron second shot from 123 yards on the par-four 10th, then knocking a five-wood second shot to within two feet on the par-five 11th. It is the same five-wood Toms used to make a hole in one en route to winning the 2001 PGA Championship.
“It was a situation where I was feeling good,” said Toms, the 2003 runner-up here to Woods. “I took my time and I just started dialing in.”
The tournament lost much of its star power with the early exits of Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Goosen, the U.S. Open champion, was the top-ranked player remaining until he ran into DiMarco, but it’s not as if the finalists are no-names.
DiMarco is a three-time tour winner, lost a playoff at the PGA Championship last year and was the 54-hole leader at the Masters. Toms has won 10 times on the PGA Tour, including a major
DiMarco said he wasn’t concerned about television ratings.
“I’m going to try and win [today], eight million viewers or two viewers,” he said. “I know my parents will be watching, and my wife, so there’s three right there.”
Toms has made 25 birdies and two eagles in 85 holes this week. On his last eight holes Saturday, all of his approach shots were to within 12 feet.
“He played perfect,” said Adam Scott, who lost to Toms, 2 and 1, in the quarterfinals Saturday morning. “It’s tough when he’s playing as good as he is. If he plays like that, I think it’s a winner.”
Scott was one of three Australians knocked out in the quarterfinals. Nick O’Hern, the left-handed Aussie who knocked out Woods in the second round, lost, 3 and 1, to Poulter. Robert Allenby also caught the last kangaroo out of town after a 4-and-3 loss to Goosen.