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David Toms ponders his years left at the top

David Toms isn't worried about his heart, which is ticking fine.

Trouble is, the clock is ticking, too.

A late bloomer who didn't capture his first PGA Tour victory until he was 30, Toms is starting to see the window of opportunity closing. He turned 39 the day before the season-opening Mercedes Championships began on Maui, which makes him wonder how many years remain of his best golf.

And as he showed Sunday at the Sony Open, his best golf is very good.

Toms went 41 consecutive holes without a 5 on his card in the wind and winding fairways of Waialae. He followed the best score of his career, a 9-under 61 that set a course record, with two birdies in three holes that sent him on his way to a 65 and a five-shot victory over two helpless challengers, Chad Campbell and Rory Sabbatini.

It was the 12th victory of his career, which includes a major and a World Golf Championship.

"I'm not saying I'm close to being done or anything," Toms said. "But I have to get it now when I can, and when I do play well, capitalize on it."

Toms concedes he has come a long way from where he was four months ago.

After the first nine holes of the 84 Lumber Classic, he felt his heart beating out his chest, dropped to a knee and nearly fainted. Strapped into a stretcher, his heart rate climbed to 170 beats per minute, and he was rushed to a hospital and briefly listed in critical condition.

He had an electrical problem in his heart, and had surgery to fix it after the season.

"I'm OK," Toms said. "That's definitely behind me."

He is more interested in the future. This is the earliest Toms has won a tournament, which puts him in a good frame of mind for the rest of the West Coast swing, into Florida in March and then on to the Masters.

He was testy on Maui, where he was one shot out of the lead going into the weekend until rounds of 79-75. Toms barked at his caddie, Scott Gneiser, whenever he missed the green, questioning club selection. To him, it was an opportunity wasted.

And that's why Sunday at the Sony Open was so important.

"I think it's more will power than anything else," he said. "Early in my career, it was like, 'Oh, make some cuts, try to get into contention, see how you do.' When I started winning tournaments, that felt good, too. But I wouldn't say it was everything to me. Now it is."

The victory moved Toms to No. 8 in the world ranking, a place he feels he belongs.

And he hopes it sets him up for a big year, like the one he had in 2001 when he made the gutsy move to lay up short of the water on the par-4 18th at Atlanta Athletic Club, then got up-and-down for par to beat Phil Mickelson in the PGA Championship. He wound up third on the money list that year, and has been a staple among the stars ever since.

"There are obviously superstars that win all the time, and it looks like it comes easy to them," Toms said. "Maybe it looked like it came easy to me because I played great, but on the inside, it's always a battle. To overcome all of that and win a golf tournament, it's the ultimate reward for all those emotions that you go through."

He made his first Ryder Cup team in 2002, carried Mickelson during the team matches and posted a 3-1-1 record. He is itching to get on this year's team, another reason to play so well this early in the year.

"I desperately want to be part of that team," said Toms, who moved up to No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings. "I needed to get off to a good start so I didn't have all that pressure on me toward the summer. This helps a lot. There was a sense urgency."

Now it's a matter of keeping it up.

He has had only two multiple-win years on tour, the first one coming in 1999. He remembers playing the old Buick Challenge at Callaway Gardens, winning by three shots despite a sore back all week.

"I read a quote that week from Davis Love that 'when David Toms gets on a roll, he's tough to beat.' To look at what a veteran said about my golf game, that had my respect," he said. "It hit home with me that I can do this, and I can do it well."

Even with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson taking Hawaii off, Toms had only to look behind him to see the future. Two rookies finished in the top five, including 27-year-old Bubba Watson, who hit four drives over 360 yards on a course with no elevation. He shot 65 and finished fourth.

"I remember when I was a rookie and would just let it go," said Sabbatini, who played with Watson. "There's absolutely no possibility I could ever have hit it that far. Just unbelievable."

Nathan Green shot 64 and was fifth while J.B. Holmes, who won Q-School last month, tied for 10th.

Toms still hasn't figured out how to regularly contend in majors, and he feels restricted on courses that suit the long hitters more than him. But when he gets it going, he can be unstoppable.

A year ago, he crushed everyone in his way while winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. At Waialae, he built a four-shot lead at the turn and no one got any closer.

"I think about it all the time," he said. "Like, 'Why can't I do that again?' I'm sure there are a lot of players that it happens to more than me. But I'd like to find it as soon as possible."



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