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Toms hoping to make good year a great one

David Toms is fourth on the PGA Tour money list with more than $3 million. He was the American star in the Ryder Cup, has earned the respect of the world's best player and has had three good chances of winning.

Has it been a great year?

"No," Toms said flatly as he walked to the practice range at East Lake Golf Club on the eve of the season-ending Tour Championship.

Would he have to win to make it a great year?

"Yes," he said.

No one can ever say Toms is spoiled by success.

He is coming off his best season on the PGA Tour - three victories, including his first major in the PGA Championship. But without a victory on his card, Toms is not satisfied.

"It hasn't been a great year when you're used to winning," said Toms, who has won seven times over the last six years, including a major. "If you're measuring by money, maybe so. But to me, it's all about winning, especially when you've had chances."

Toms certainly has had those.

His year began in the Mercedes Championships, where a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th stayed a fraction of an inch short of the fall, just as the rain began falling. A week ago was more of the same - rain falling, an 18-foot birdie putt, not quite enough speed.

There was another close call in the Colonial, but Toms is no longer interested in being in contention.

"You mean like being the Buffalo Bills? All anyone ever talks about them is how they got to the Super Bowl and didn't win," he said. "I don't want to be thought of that way."

His last chance starts Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship for the top 30 players on the money list.

Toms has few qualms with his game. In his last two starts, he was 21-under par in the Disney World Golf Classic and 26 under in the Buick Challenge. Neither of those scores was good enough to claim the trophy.

It won't get any easier this week.

He'll go up against the strongest - albeit the shortest - field of the year, golf's version of the All-Star game.

Phil Mickelson is the defending champion, since last year's winner (Mike Weir) didn't qualify and Mickelson won the last time he played in the Tour Championship at East Lake in 2000, coming from one-stroke behind to beat Tiger Woods.

Oh, him.

The Tour Championship is supposed decide who wins the awards, although Woods has removed the suspense for the fourth straight season.

He already has clinced the money title.

He already has won five times, which is three more times than anyone else.

And barring four rounds in the 80s - like Saturday at the British Open - he'll cruise to another Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average.

"With 17 first-time winners this year, and he's still able to win as much as he has? Unbelievable," Charles Howell III said. "To see the discrepancy between where he is on the money list and the 30th guy - even the second guy - shows you with as many great players as there are, he's still that far ahead."

The second guy would be Mickelson, who was shocked to hear that he has won more than $4 million for the third straight year.

Still, the gap grew even wider this year.

Woods won two majors, the Masters and the U.S. Open. Mickelson still has none.

And consider this: Mickelson has finished higher than Woods only once out of the 14 times they have played in the same tournament. The exception was at the Memorial, where Woods tied for 22nd and Mickelson tied for ninth.

Here's another amazing statistic: In his best five tournaments, Woods has earned more money ($4,322,000) than Mickelson has in the 25 events he has played ($4,121,971).

Mickelson has few complaints.

He won the Bob Hope Classic and Greater Hartford Open, gave himself two outside chances in the majors and spent the year adjusting to travel with two children.

"Nothing is going to haunt me," Mickelson said. "I've enjoyed this year. It's been a transitional year because it's our first year traveling with two children. I feel like I've played well with some off-course challenges."

Mickelson usually winds down his season, only this year he's just warming up. He still has the Skins Game, Target World Challenge and the World Cup with Toms awaiting.

Toms, meanwhile, is starting to develop a close relationship with Woods. They were paired together at Disney (at Woods' choosing), and probably will play together at Woods' tournament next month, the Target World Challenge.

"That says a lot, that I have his respect and that he thinks enough of me as a person that he enjoys playing golf with me," Toms said. "Anytime you have the respect of the best player in the world, that makes me feel good about where I am in my career."

He doesn't have any victories this year. It hasn't been a total loss.

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