Stress free Toms walks away with title

THE only stress David Toms felt at the Sony Open was getting to the airport.

A purple lei draped around his neck, he took time to raise a champagne toast to the Waialae Country Club members in a clubhouse room with a view of the sun dropping behind Pacific waters. Then it was out the door and into a black limousine that was waiting to whisk him away.

There were no such worries in the final round on Sunday.

Two quick birdies gave him to a two-shot lead over Chad Campbell, who tried his best to hang on. Toms stretched his lead to four shots at the turn, and never let anyone get closer.

“First hole, making birdie, that kind of set the tone for the way the day was going to be,” said Toms, who closed with a five-under 65 for a five-shot victory over Campbell (70) and Rory Sabbatini, who shot a 62 and knew the entire time it was never going to be good enough.

It was the largest margin at Waialae since Paul Azinger won by seven in 2000.

Toms finished at 19-under 261, one shot off the 72-hole tournament record, and earned $918,000 (€757,000). It put him in a good frame of mind for the rest of the West Coast, not to mention the rest of the year.

Above all, it answered any lingering questions about his heart.

Everyone knows Toms is tough, which he first proved winning the 2001 PGA Championship.

But not many will forget four months ago at the 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania when his heart raced out of control, up to 170 beats a minute.

Toms nearly fainted. He was placed on a stretcher, an oxygen mask strapped over his mouth, and rushed to a hospital where he was briefly listed in critical condition before being stabilised.

The 39-year-old was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia, an electrical problem with the heart. He had surgery in November at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to fix the problem, and says he’s as good as new.

“I still get questions about it,” he said. “Every week, somebody will ask me in the gallery, or somebody with the media, or somebody with the golf tournament. I’m fine. That’s definitely behind me.”

He thought back to 2004, when he missed the first part of the season recovering from surgery on his hand. Toms won the St Jude Classic in Memphis that year to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

“I came out and was able to play well right away, and erase any questions that I might have, whether or not I was going to be able to do it again,” he said. “I’ve come a long way from that day in Pennsylvania.”

Toms was in total control of all aspects of his game on a spectacular day along the shores of the Pacific, where surfers clinging to parasails glided along the water. It was a feeling Toms knew well.

He set a course record with a 61 to share the 54-hole lead with Campbell. And he resumed his solid play with an eight-iron into 12 feet for birdie on the first hole, and a drive that split the middle on the dangerous second hole.

“It was like, ‘Here we go again. I’m going to play good’,” Toms said.

Victory was never in doubt. Toms won for the 12th time in his career, and it should be enough to put him back into the top 10 in the world.

The entertainment value came from 27-year-old rookie Bubba Watson, a lefty with power not seen since John Daly showed up at the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991. Swinging from the heels, he blasted four drives over 360 yards on a course with no elevation.

A flip wedge into the par-five 18th hole set up a short eagle for a 65 that gave him fourth place on his debut.

“I remember when I was a rookie and would just let it go,” Sabbatini said. “There’s absolutely no possibility I could ever have hit it that far. Just unbelievable.”

David Duval also started his season well, closing with a 63 for his best score in nearly three years.

What was supposed to be a two-man race at Waialae turned into a runaway.

The roles were reversed from Saturday, when Campbell was firing off birdies and Toms was doing his best simply to keep up. From the opening shot, Toms had the advantage. And while Campbell did remarkably well to stay within range, including three straight par saves from the bunker, the Texan didn’t have enough game.

“I tried to hang in there for a little while,” Campbell said. “It catches up with you. One birdie on Sunday isn’t going to do it.”

It was going to take a lot more than that to beat Toms, who went 41 consecutive holes without a bogey until he missed a five-foot par putt on the 13th on Sunday.

No matter. His lead was still four shots, and he birdied the next hole for good measure.

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