Thursday, September 18, 2008

MADISON, Miss.(AP) Ask David Toms how he's handling life away from the Ryder Cup, and he'll smile and give an honest answer.

``Not very well,'' he says.

While the PGA Tour's top flight is in Louisville, Ky., playing for national pride, Toms is at the Viking Classic at the Annandale Golf Club.

Like Chris DiMarco and J.J. Henry, Ryder Cup teammates two years ago who find themselves dealing with the deep rough and muddy fairways in central Mississippi this week, Toms will be sneaking away as often as possible to see what kind of fight the U.S. team is putting up.

``I've played enough in that event to know what I'm missing and everything, and know those guys are having a good time,'' Toms said. ``They're playing for their country and loving every single minute of their time being there. I'll certainly miss it this week, but my focus is here.''

As it should be. Toms has been one of America's most consistent international match play presences. He has played in either the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup over the last six years and thought he'd represent the United States a seventh time in 2008.

And why not? With more than $28.5 million in career earnings and 12 PGA Tour victories since 1997, Toms has earned the right to be presumptuous.

Toms was 4-0-1 and scored the most points for the Americans in their Presidents Cup victory in Montreal last September. A little more than a month later, though, he tore a calf muscle and limped into 2008 not quite ready to play.

He skipped much of January, taking time to watch his alma mater LSU win a national championship in football. Then he got off to a slow start and hurt his back in his second tournament. He is 120th on the money list after missing four of 18 cuts this year.

He doesn't blame injuries for his problems, though.

``That would be an excuse,'' Toms said after hitting a perfect tee shot on No. 13 during Wednesday's pro-am. ``Just the level of play hasn't been there this year. It's been a weird year. I've had a couple of nagging injuries, I've had other times where I've had a chance to play well and didn't. Just overall my golf game hasn't been in as good of shape, actually in the last two years, as it had been for a long time.''

Toms failed to win a tournament in 2007 for the first time in five seasons and hopes the $3.6 million Viking Classic can give him the kind of bump Chad Campbell, a captain's choice in the Ryder Cup, was hoping for when he turned his career around with a win at Annandale last year.

Fred Funk, a former Ryder Cup team member and two-time winner in Mississippi, said all it takes for players like Toms is a good weekend to reverse their flagging fortunes and games.

``It's a little slap to the ego, but it's also the nature of the game,'' said Funk, a two-time winner on the Champions Tour this year.

``It's such a fine line between being on the Ryder Cup team and being 120th on the money list. There's not much difference between being successful out here and being in Q school.''

After backing off over the summer, Toms will be more aggressive this fall and offseason than usual. He'll play more fall tournaments and quite a bit in the offseason rather than take time off.

He doesn't need to win this weekend to satisfy his need for progress, but he'd like to see if he can make a run. The tournament features 13 former Ryder Cup players and five players in the top 50 earnings list.

``What I'm trying to get out of this week is have a little competition, come out here and do well, try to get under the gun and have a chance maybe on Sunday to see how I do, and try to build some confidence going into next year,'' Toms said.

Rory Sabbatini, Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia, John Daly and David Duval also are in the field.

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