As the final cheer rang out and David Toms was announced on the 18th green as the Buick Challenge champion Sunday, Davis Love III was surprised to hear that Toms had been suffering from a bad back all week.
"Join the team," said Love, no stranger to back problems.
Love could say the same thing by looking at the money list, not the medical charts. Toms, the best-kept secret on the PGA Tour, has quietly turned in one of the most surprising seasons this year.
By closing with a 1-under 71 for a three-stroke victory over Stuart Appleby, Toms won for the second time this year and moved up to No. 9 on the money list. In his last five tournaments, he has won twice and finished second, and his $1.2 million is more than any other player during that stretch.
Even more remarkable was his victory in the Buick Challenge particularly since bad pain forced him out of the pro-am on Wednesday and left him unable to swing a club.
"I had no idea I would win," said Toms, who became the sixth multiple-winner on the PGA Tour this year.
With one-putts on the first five greens, Toms led by as many as six strokes and never gave anyone a chance to catch him. He finished at 271 and won $324,000, giving him more than $1.7 million for the year.
Appleby birdied two of the final three holes for a 71 that put him in second, but two double bogeys kept him from making a run. Still, he earned $194,400 to move off the bubble from No. 30 on the money list and likely will make the Tour Championship.
"It was good to play solid this week," Appleby said. "That was a nice reward for all the hard work I've put in."
Love was in a three-way tie for third after a 70, not a bad week considering he was still celebrating a U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup.
Toms won the Sprint International in August, a week after the thrilling PGA Championship finish by Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia. His victory Sunday came a week after the U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup.
If his two victories have been overshadowed, so has his steady ascent into the elite on the PGA Tour. Toms never has finished higher than 44th on the money list, and had to return to the Nike Tour only four years ago.
Now, he's at a level where even Love knew it would be an uphill battle.
"When I saw him at 15 under yesterday, I said, `This is probably over,"' Love said. "When David Toms gets ahead, he usually goes on to win."
Toms can attribute his victory to a great wek of putting, and a huge assist from the fitness people.
"I'm surprised he's playing this well," said Ralph Simpson, a certified manual physical therapist who applied rubdowns, heat, ice and electrodes to Toms' back. "When you're hurting like that, it's hard to get through the ball, let alone play well. We gave him the platform, and he's gone from there."
Every morning, Toms went through what Simpson called a "high velocity, short amplitude thrust," which essentially massages specific joints to keep him from being as stiff as the Tin Man. He also got a myofacial, described as "deactivating the trigger points."
All Toms knew that his head felt very heavy each morning, and he felt good enough to win at the end of each day.
"They massaged out all the knots," Toms said. "I owe them a lot."
Appleby eliminated any drama by making a double bogey at the first hole, pulling his drive into the woods and giving Toms a five-stroke margin. Toms matched Appleby stroke for stroke the rest of the front nine, and led by six strokes after a birdie at the 10th.
"My giving him a nice opening hole was not what I had planned," Appleby said. "It's hard to make up a deficit from there. I did my best, but it wasn't nearly good enough."
Toms' only slip came at the par-3 12th, where he missed the green far to the right and wound with a double bogey. Appleby, however, again hit into the woods and made double bogey two holes later.
^DIVOTS: Paul Azinger switched to a SeeMore putter for the week, but the vision he says he needs has to come from somewhere else. Azinger hit his irons beautifully all week, but didn't hole a single putt outside 12 feet. Four of his five bogeys were three-putts.
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