As a kid in Shreveport, Toms was a point guard in basketball and played shortstop and pitched for his Little League team. He struck out future major leaguer Albert Belle, although Belle homered off him in the same game. ("David tried to sneak a fastball past Albert," says Buster, "and he tattooed it.") After turning pro in 1989, David yo-yoed on and off the PGA Tour for eight years, winning twice on the Nike tour but never cracking the top 100 on the big circuit. "I lacked confidence and maturity," he says. "You tee off at 1 p.m. on the first day of a tournament, you're already eight shots back, the wind is picking up" He shrugs. "It's easy to get down on yourself."
Like most touring pros, Toms had to get a whole lot better merely to become obscure. He won his first Tour event, the 1997 Quad City Classic, when he was 30, and he didn't garner any real attention until '99, when he took the Sprint International and the Buick Challenge. His record in the majors was embarrassing—he made the 36-hole cut once in seven starts through 1999—but he did shoot a final-round 64 to finish in a sixth-place tie at his first Masters, in 1998. In 2000 he tied for fourth in his first British Open, at St. Andrews.
That, along with the fact that he was winning about $2 million a year on Tour, should have prepared folks for his 2001 performance. Toms certainly gave Mickelson, the world's second-best player, a heads up, firing a final-round 64 last May to beat him by two shots at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans. Toms got the hometown treatment: Fans shouted his name and chanted, "LSU! LSU!" At the PGA, on the other hand, Mickelson had the galleries on his side and Toms was the spoiler. "I wouldn't call it a hostile environment," Toms says. "It was more of a case of them pulling for Phil, not against me." He smiles. "I was playing so well, I kind of tuned it out."
Sonya, who met David on a blind date in 1991, treats his PGA win more as a confirmation of his ability than as a life-altering achievement. "It's wonderful, I'm thrilled for him," she says, "but we didn't need for him to win a major to feel complete." Most of the sources of his contentment can be found in and around his house at Southern Trace, a golf course development. They include Sonya, four-year-old son Carter, a network of pals and neighbors, and his feathered friends, the ducks. Earlier this year David joined Buster and three other men in the purchase of 850 acres on the Red River in Arkansas, about 50 miles north of Shreveport. "It's strictly for duck hunting," says Buster, who is active with the conservation group Ducks Unlimited. "It's David's getaway from the pressure."
If the past is any guide, Toms's body will give out before the pressure gets to him. He played last week with throbbing pain in his left wrist and stingers down his left arm, symptoms mirroring those that affected his right side in years past. "It's my body telling me it's time to get some rest," said Toms, who ignored his discomfort and instead put the hurt on the par-71 Cypress Creek course at Champions.
"There is no give-up in David," says Gneiser, who watched his man go three over par for the first 23 holes and 17 under the rest of the way. "He knows he can make five birdies in a row and turn a bad round into a decent round." Toms's 67 was the lowest Sunday score among the contenders, and while it didn't bring home the bacon—Mike Weir birdied the first extra hole at sunset to edge Toms, Ernie Els and Sergio Garc�a—it brought Toms's 2001 earnings to a porkish $3,791,595. "He's had an unbelievable year," said Els. "He's playing with great confidence and making it look easy."
"David really does have all his ducks in a row," says Sonya, who's looking forward to having her husband home for a couple of weeks. She won't even mind having to share him with Krispy Kreme, QuickKick, LSU, hunting, fishing, and his latest and most serious addiction: winning.