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David Toms getting used to the limelight

David Toms used to be able to enjoy a quiet dinner, practice in peace and go about his business without a bother. All that changed with one of the most courageous decisions in golf, and a par putt that made him the PGA Champion.

Toms arrived at the NEC Invitational -- a World Golf Championship event he wasn't qualified for until Sunday -- and wore out three pens signing autographs.

Invitations are starting to pour in from international events offering appearance money. There are plans for Toms to appear with Jay Leno or David Letterman, or maybe both.

``It's been crazy,'' Toms said. ``I had no idea what it was going to be like, and it's more than I expected.''

The first bonus Toms takes from the PGA Championship is a spot in the field for the NEC Invitational, the most exclusive of the $5 million World Golf Championship events.

The 39-man field is comprised of players from the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. Europe won't decide its team for two weeks, so it sent the top 12 players from the Ryder Cup standings, making it a crucial week for those on the bubble.

The defending champion is Tiger Woods, who will try to end talk about a slump by continuing a streak. Another victory this week would make him the first player to win three straight tournaments at Firestone Country Club.

No one is sure what Woods thinks about his chances because he stayed in his hotel room Wednesday with a stomach virus.

Toms can be excused if he is battling fatigue, a common ailment that strikes players in the days after winning their first major championship.

``It's very busy afterward, and I imagine he's tired,'' British Open champion David Duval said. ``I'm still tired.''

Toms hasn't caught a break. He left Atlanta Athletic Club after 10 p.m. Sunday and listened to phone messages all the way back to his hotel room.

``My pastor called me at almost midnight, which shocked me,'' Toms said. ``I thought he would be in bed for four hours.''

Then it was off to Chicago for a previously planned corporate outing -- Duval had the Canadian Skins game after his first major -- then up early Tuesday for radio shows and other interviews, all of them asking about his decision to lay up on the 18th hole.

Duval was the first one to call Toms and congratulate him. Hal Sutton pulled him aside on the practice range at Firestone and said he was screaming instructions at the television as Toms contemplated whether to go for the 18th green with a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson and a precarious lie in the rough.

``I'm telling you to lay up,'' Sutton told him. ``That's the only play you've got.''

But perhaps the most meaningful conversation was with the first player Toms saw after leaving Atlanta -- Jeff Sluman.

In 1988, Sluman was relatively unknown when he closed with a 65 to win the PGA Championship. He didn't win another PGA Tour event for nine years.

Toms is hardly an overnight sensation, having won five times since the start of the 1999 season -- only Woods (21), Duval and Mickelson (6 apiece) have won more since then.

Still, he took Sluman's words to heart.

``He just said don't try to live up to the expectations of the media and people out there now that you're a major champion,'' Toms said. ``Just try to do your best and try to accomplish what you set out for yourself.

``I guess now a little more spotlight is on me to see how I perform, and I want to continue to play well and build on this.''

Despite winning his first major and the most recent major, the spotlight won't be entirely on Toms this week at Firestone.

Woods will always garner most of the attention, especially now that he has gone five straight tournaments without contending on Sunday -- the first time that has happened since he turned pro in 1996.

Firestone is a good course to turn that around. He set a course record last year with a 21-under 259 and an 11-stroke victory, one of the most exciting of the year because Woods birdied the 18th hole in the dark.

That was his eighth PGA victory of the 2000 season. This year, he's been stuck on four since the first weekend in June.

His woes are a hot topic for everyone but his peers.

``You're talking about how poorly he's playing and the slump he's in, and he's won four times, including the Masters and the other major, The Players Championship,'' Duval said. ``It's been a disastrous year, I guess. Expectations are different for him.''

Expectations will always be high for Woods.

Toms can always keep that in mind if he ever starts getting tugged in different directions or criticized for not playing up to par.


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