There are a lot of things about the 2001 PGA Championship that today, 10 years later, have blurred and faded in David Toms’ mind.
There are two indelible memories that still stand out in high definition, though.
One is the hole-in-one he had on the 15th hole in Saturday’s third round, one of the greatest shots in the history of major championship golf.
The other is the 12-foot par putt he made on the final hole Sunday to beat Phil Mickelson by a stroke, one of the most clutch putts in the history of major championship golf.
The memories come back in sharp relief for Toms every time he goes into the game room at his home in Shreveport. That’s where he keeps the 5-wood he used on 15, the single swing that put him in the lead to stay.
“Obviously it was very special,” the former LSU All-American said. “I have the club in a glass case.”
To remember his winning putt this week, Toms has only to play a practice round.
For the first time since his victory a decade ago, the PGA Championship returns to the site of Toms’ greatest victory: the Atlanta Athletic Club in the north Atlanta suburb of Johns Creek, Ga.
“I think about it often and certainly being back here brings back those memories of how I had to play that last hole,” said Toms, who laid up out of the rough and wedged his third shot onto the green before making the putt.
It may be the same location, but there is also much that’s different.
The course has been lengthened more than 250 yards to 7,467 yards, still playing to a par of 70. A new strain of Bermuda grass has also been introduced, designed to hold up well in Atlanta’s hot, humid August weather but still play fast and firm.
Ten years ago, Toms shot what is still the lowest all-time aggregate score in major championship history: 265, 15-under par.
With the changes to Atlanta Athletic Club, he doubts he or anyone else will get close to that mark this time.
“I’d be shocked,” he said. “I really would. The way guys bomb the ball now you never know, but somewhere along the way the golf course is going to get you. A lot of times you’re going to be playing for pars rather than birdies.”
Toms returns to the scene of his greatest triumph in the midst of what has been a renaissance season for the 44-year-old former Tiger.
Winless since early in the 2006 season, Toms came within a whisker of winning The Players Championship in May, losing a playoff to K.J. Choi.
It looked like a crushing defeat, but Toms rebounded one week later to win the Crowne Plaza Invitational at one of his favorite courses: Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
“That was a very, very big highlight,” Toms said. “I hadn’t won in a long time. I thought I could win again, but that it would come at one of my favorite courses was extra special.”
Toms ranks the Colonial win with his PGA Championship and winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans (then the Compaq Classic) in 2001.
“It was on par with my win at New Orleans,” he said. “They’re 1A, 1B and 1C. They’re all very special.”
Though he played just once over the past two months because of a hip injury - skipping the British Open - Toms rebounded with a tie for ninth in last week’s Bridgestone Invitational against a strong field at Firestone Country Club.
For the season, Toms has made $3.073 million and ranks 10th in the FedEx Cup points standings.
“It’s been a blast this year,” Toms said. “I made a conscious effort to have a little more fun on the golf course, and it’s paid off. That’s really the only way you can play. The game beats you up enough as it is. If you don’t enjoy it and aren’t dedicated to the sport, a lot of guys will blow right by you.”
Toms will be paired for the first two rounds of the PGA with Mickelson, who went on to win the 2005 PGA at Baltusrol, and two-time PGA champion Vijay Singh. The threesome will tee off at 7:15 a.m. CST Thursday.
Some critics say the international contingent is blowing right by the group of American golfers these days.
In terms of major championships, American golf has never experienced a drought like this. The last American to win a major was Mickelson at the 2010 Masters.
Since then, six straight international golfers have triumphed, three from tiny Northern Ireland alone: Graeme McDowell (2010 U.S. Open), Rory McIlroy (2011 U.S. Open) and Darren Clarke in last month’s British Open at Royal St. Georges. South Africans won the 2010 British Open (Louis Oosthuizen) and this year’s Masters (Charl Schwartzel).
Germany’s Martin Kaymer won last year’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in a playoff over Bubba Watson, who won the Zurich Classic in May in a playoff over Webb Simpson.
Steve Stricker and Mickelson are the world’s top-ranked Americans at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively. Dustin Johnson, who missed last year’s playoff after a bizarre penalty on the final hole (he grounded his club in a small sandy area he didn’t realize was a hazard) is one of the top American contenders at No. 8. Toms is No. 19.
Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods will garner a lot of attention though he has fallen to No. 30 in the world. Winless since 2009, Woods tied for 37th in the Bridgestone, his first start since The Players after sitting out with knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries.