AUGUSTA, Ga. — David Toms knows the signposts along the way to Sunday’s green jacket ceremony at the Masters, and he knows few of them point in his direction.
He’s 46 now. Of the previous 76 Masters, only six were won by men in their 40s, none of them older than Toms is today.
He has never been a long hitter. That’s a problem at Augusta National Golf Club, which at 7,435 yards is an immaculate, green, verdant monster of a course. Toms generally hits two clubs more than the average length PGA Tour player, and is rarely in the same ZIP code as bombers like Dustin Johnson or 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson.
But yet there he stood Thursday afternoon near Augusta National’s whitewashed clubhouse, talking about a first-round 2-under par 70. It’s a score that has Toms squarely in contention, tied for 13th place with pre-Masters favorites like Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose.
“Two-under par was about how I played, really,” Toms said. “I had some opportunities I didn’t capitalize on, then I recovered a couple of times for nice pars. It’s a very nice start.”
The round was Toms’ first in red numbers here since he closed the 2010 Masters with a pair of 71s.
Toms tied for 14th that year. He was ninth back in 2007 when short-hitter Zach Johnson won with a record-tying score of 1 over in one of the coldest and windiest Masters ever.
Toms still shares the records for lowest back nine at Augusta National (29) and lowest final round score (64). But that round was back in 1998, when he was 15 years younger and the course was about a mile shorter.
Clearly, Toms is on the back end of his remarkable career, highlighted by his win in the 2001 PGA Championship at nearby Atlanta Athletic Club, shooting a 265 score that is still the lowest stroke total in any major.
He is beginning that transition into one of the game’s elder statesman. Toms has only won once since 2006, the 2011 Colonial. He’s about to complete a practice facility and youth golf academy in Shreveport called “265” (for that winning PGA score). He sorely wanted to be picked as the U.S. captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup but lost out to eight-time major champion Tom Watson. Toms didn’t let a single public protest slip, though, as he hopes and deserves to be picked as the Ryder Cup captain for 2016.
The Champions Tour soon beckons. But what if Toms can unwind the clock and capture one last measure of glory here?
He’s given hints. Toms reached the par-5 15th in two Thursday and made 3 from the back fringe, just his second Masters eagle ever. He bombed about a 310-yard drive down the 350-yard par-4 third, leaving him a 38-yard pitch that set up an easy birdie.
“It was one of my better-focused rounds” this season, Toms said.
“I feel good. It’s a long way to the end.”
The end of the Masters or the end of Toms’ days as a competitive PGA Tour golfer? As much as anyone, Toms is eager to find out.