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Still No Match for Toms

Times Staff Writer

They call him King David just about every time he wins a tournament, but David Toms has no visions of ruling over the world of golf.

He’ll leave that to Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.

But if he keeps playing the way he did this week at the Accenture Match Play Championship, the “Big Four” might have to make room for a fifth.

Toms capped a week of brilliant ball-striking with a 6 and 5 rout over pal Chris DiMarco in the 36-hole final match Sunday at La Costa Spa and Resort.

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It signaled a return to the top of sorts for Toms, who won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in May, but otherwise struggled through the season while recovering from wrist surgery at the end of 2003.

He made 11 birdies in 31 holes Sunday, won nine of 10 holes during a stretch of the morning 18 and set a tournament record for largest margin of victory.

He pocketed $1.3 million for his 11th career victory, moved to No. 2 on the season money list, into the top 10 in the world golf rankings and into sixth on the PGA Tour career earnings list with $20,743,398.

He has a major championship to his credit -- the 2001 PGA -- and showed ball-striking ability that drew comparisons to Ben Hogan, but Toms said he still has a long way to go to join the ranks of the elite.

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“I feel like I can be a top-10 player,” he said. “As far as a top-five player, I feel like I have limitations. Year in and year out, week after week, there are a handful of guys that are just better than I am.”

None could be found during match play.

He had 37 birdies, two eagles and only four bogeys in 118 holes during his six matches, stuffed shot after shot to within 15 feet of the hole and took out two players ranked in the top 10 in the world: Mickelson, a two-time PGA Tour winner this year, and Nissan Open champion Adam Scott.

Against DiMarco, he raced to a 6-up lead after 18 holes -- also a tournament record -- and never was challenged. DiMarco, who won $750,000, said Toms deserves mention in any conversation about the best players in the game.

“I think he was there and then he got hurt,” DiMarco said. “He took a lot of time off last year and didn’t play up to his standards. I think everybody forgets about him a little bit because of that. He’s a top-five player in the world, without a doubt.”

Toms finished third on the money list in 2001, fourth in 2002 and eighth in 2003. His 22nd place last year was his lowest since 1998. He has been on the last two Ryder Cup teams and was on the 2003 Presidents Cup team.

On the back nine of the morning round Sunday, he hit six of his nine approach shots to within 15 feet. That followed a back nine Saturday in his semifinal match against Ian Poulter when he hit his final eight approach shots to within 12 feet.

For the week, he hit 86 greens in regulation (74%) and 74 of 89 fairways. Of the 31 holes he played Sunday, he scored a three on 16.

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“I can’t explain why I felt like I did all week,” Toms said. “I just felt very, very comfortable with myself and the golf that was in front of me. I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt like that in an event.”

In the final match, he had a chance to dispel the age-old notion that golf tournaments begin on the back nine Sunday. He had taken a 9-up lead with 10 holes to play and had he won the ninth hole of the afternoon round, the match never would have made the back nine.

Instead, DiMarco won the ninth with a par, then made three consecutive birdies on holes 10-12 -- “at some point your pride comes into it,” he said -- and trimmed Toms’ lead to 6-up before Toms ended it with an eight-foot birdie on No. 13.

DiMarco was the equivalent of three under for the 31 holes Sunday: not bad, but not nearly enough against Toms, who was the equivalent of 10 under.

“With the way he played against Ian and the way he played against me, I think those are probably two of the best back-to-back rounds that you can see,” DiMarco said. “God, you lose 6-down and you’re three under; that means he played good.”

It’s hard to believe, but DiMarco had a 1-up lead through eight holes. Toms squared the match at the turn with a birdie on No. 9, then went on a back-nine barrage with five birdies in six holes to take a 5-up lead.

“I was hoping it wasn’t only an 18-hole match,” DiMarco said.

It got so lopsided that Toms, leading, 8-up, while walking down the eighth fairway in the afternoon round, began thinking about his victory speech. He slapped himself in the head to refocus and made a birdie to take a 9-up lead.

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“It’s hard for things not to creep into your head,” he said. “All of a sudden, here’s this thought. You fight that, we do as golfers, fight that all the time.”

Soon enough, he may be fighting to get in the top five of the world rankings. He now has three top-five finishes in five starts this year. That kind of pace will close the gap on the big four in a hurry.

“This is by far the best West Coast I’ve ever had,” he said. “I really feel like I can build on this and do something really special this year.”

In the third-place match, Retief Goosen made a birdie on the second extra hole to defeat Poulter. Goosen won $560,000; Poulter collected $450,000.


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