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Warren Bennett

Rusty Toms returns to action

David Toms has taken a lot of time off lately, made a less-than-stellar return last week and came to the Michelob Championship as a defending champion with no expectations of success.

Toms, it seems, has the field right where he wants it heading into Thursday's opening round on the River Course at Kingsmill Golf Club.

``Actually, I was in the same situation last year,'' Toms said Wednesday. ``I came in, missed the cut the week before, and expectations were pretty low, but I was able to put it together on Saturday and Sunday.''

The results yielded Toms' fourth career victory, earned with a 5-foot putt for par on the first hole of a playoff against Mike Weir.

This year, Toms took a month off and made his return last week in Texas, where he played ``probably the two worst rounds of golf I played back-to-back all year.''

He missed the cut with a 5-over-par 147.

``I'm just trying to get back into the swing of things,'' he said.

Toms arrives as the defending champion possibly in the midst of his breakthrough season on tour. He's won twice, including a dramatic last-hole victory against Phil Mickelson in the PGA Championship, but said he'll tee it up on Thursday with no idea if he's found his game again.

On Wednesday, he was 1-over in the pro-am when he suddenly made four birdies in a row, leaving him wondering if he turned the corner.

``I don't know what to tell you about what I expect tomorrow. If I can play like I did today and get some birdies to go in, you never know.''

Toms said the turnaround can come with just one shot, and he need look no further than Weir for proof that one shot can make or break you.

In 1999, Weir led throughout the final round until his inability to make the big shot caught up with him, as did Notah Begay and Tom Byrum. Begay beat Byrum on the second playoff hole, and Weir wound up third.

Last year, Weir seemed out of the running on the final day until he shot a 5-under-par 30 on the back nine, finishing off with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that earned him a spot in a playoff.

There, he misread a 10-foot par effort on the first extra hole, and wound up second when Toms calmly rolled in the 5-footer for par.

``I finished third in '99 and second last year, so hopefully I'm going in the right direction,'' Weir said Wednesday after teaming with four amateurs to shoot an 18-under 53 in a pro-am on the 6,853-yard layout.

Weir returns this year 17th on the money list, but without a victory. He's been second twice and third once, feeling like he missed a good chance to win here once, then came from nowhere to contend a year ago.

``I think I'm putting a lot better than I have at any point in the year,'' said Weir, who is coming off a 2 1/2 -week break. ``Hopefully, that can continue this week and I can catch a few breaks and be there on Sunday.''

Neither Toms nor Weir have to worry this week with the running theme of most late-season events-- prize money placement.

With the top 30 players earning spots in the lucrative Tour Championship at the end of October, and the top 125 retaining their tour cards for another year, this week can be huge for a struggling player.

The tournament also will feature the professional debut of 17-year-old Ty Tryon, a high school junior from Orlando, Fla., who opened eyes by making the cut in both tour events he entered earlier this year.

``I'm just real excited to be here,'' said Tryon, who failed to earn his way in qualifying on Monday, but got into the field with a sponsor's exemption.

Tryon was 39th in the Honda Classic in March at the age of 16 years, 9 months, becoming the youngest player to make the cut in 44 years. He was 37th at the B.C. Open in July, the best amateur finish there ever.

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