Toms Quietly at Top in PGA Mercedes

Saturday, January 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) _ David Toms doesn't feel an urgent need to back up his remarkable 2001 season, when he won his first major championship with a gutsy layup and added two other victories on the PGA Tour.

He's not about to slow down, either.

In the first tournament of the new season, Toms had a 7-under 66 in the second round Friday to share the lead at the Mercedes Championships with Kenny Perry.

On a day of strong Kona wind, big numbers and swift changes on the leaderboard, Toms was the only player in the 32-man field to make it through the Plantation Course at Kapalua without a bogey.

No three-putts, which tripped up Mike Weir.

No trips into the bushes to remove a branch as wide as telephone, which led to a double bogey for Chris DiMarco.

No opening-hole disasters, like the triple bogey that knocked down Tiger Woods.

Toms quietly moved to the top, just like he has done throughout his career.

``I just want to maintain the level of play,'' Toms said. ``Whether that's winning tournaments or winning majors, I just want to continue to play that level of golf.''

That's what he's doing.

Six players had a share of the lead at one point, and Toms was always in the mix. He was never far from the hole, which kept him from making bogeys, and packaged five birdies with a 4-iron into 12 feet for an eagle on No. 9.

It all added up to the perfect day, which happened to be his 35th birthday and his wife's 30th. He had a share of the lead at 135 and _ better yet _ Steve Spurrier resigned as Florida's football coach.

That's a big deal to an All-American from LSU, who was introduced before a full house at Tiger Stadium after winning the PGA.

``That's the best news I've heard in a long, long time,'' Toms said.

The next good news could come Sunday if Toms can hold it together and win the first tournament of the season.

That's a long way off, with plenty of players still in the mix.

Perry overcame a couple of early bogeys with three straight birdies and then a 3-iron to the par-5 18th green, where his 50-foot eagle putt stopped just inches from the hole. That gave him a 67, and a share of the lead.

Not a bad start to his season, considering Perry hasn't played since the Tour Championship two months ago.

``I took my son to Jacksonville (Fla.) about a week before Christmas and played five days down there,'' he said. ``I did a little work early this week, got used to these Kona winds. It's helping.''

Scott Verplank three-putted for bogey from 10 feet on No. 8, but still managed a 69 and was another stroke back.

Mike Weir was 11 shots worse than his opening 63, which tied the course record. Blame that on a rusty short game _ he didn't need it on Thursday, when he hit everything stiff. A day later, he still had a lot of 6-footers, only they were for par, not birdie.

``Hopefully, this is my bad round,'' the Canadian said. ``I don't feel like I played that bad, just felt like I wasted a lot of shots. If I would not have three-putted, I would have probably still shot 3 under.''

Woods had problems on the greens, too, lipping out more birdie putts than he cares to remember. That wasn't the problem Friday.

He opened his second round with a tee shot into the bunker, followed by an approach that got hung up in the wind and landed in the weeds. He got to the green in four shots, took three putts and walked away with a triple bogey.

Even a birdie on the final hole wasn't enough to help his mood. Woods walked off without taking questions after signing for a 74. He was at 142, seven strokes back.

Mark Calcavecchia equaled the best round of the day with a 66, thanks to two eagles. The final one came at No. 18, when a 3-iron stopped rolling about 2 feet from the hole.

``Even when it's windy, you're going to hit some greens,'' Calcavecchia said. ``It's just avoiding the three putts.''

He was at 138, along with David Duval, who overcame three bogeys on his first seven holes to post a 71.

Toms avoided three-putts better than anyone.

``Putting is very difficult when the wind is blowing like that,'' Toms said. ``You have that grain factor and the wind factor, plus it blows your body around a little bit. I hit a lot of shots pin-high, which I was proud of when the wind is like this. You can three-putt your way around this course pretty easily.''

Winning the Mercedes would be a great way to start the season.

Toms doesn't have anything to prove. Only Woods, Duval and Phil Mickelson have won at least six times on tour since 1999. But he knows what it's like on the other side, too.

``It's not much fun to play bad golf, and I've done that before,'' Toms said. ``Once you taste the success I've had, you want to experience that as long as you can.''