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Mickelson and Toms Become a Sweet Pair

Golf: Players who battled down the stretch in two 2001 tour events make a world of difference for U.S. at Ryder Cup.


SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — It's not a Ryder Cup partnership you would have expected.

If this is some kind of buddy act, it sure had the wrong kind of beginning--last year's PGA Championship, when David Toms made a hole in one Saturday, then laid up on the 72nd hole and sank a clutch putt for par to beat Phil Mickelson by one shot.

And they didn't appear to be the two parts of a potential team a couple of months earlier at New Orleans, where Toms shot 63-64 on the weekend and beat Mickelson by two shots.

Friends, at least golf friends, are where you find them, and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Curtis Strange found Mickelson and Toms at the Belfry. And just in time too.

The only group that Strange kept together all four matches, Mickelson and Toms didn't win them all--they were 2 1/2--1 1/2 after losing to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the better-ball match Saturday afternoon--but they were solid.

Said Montgomerie: "David Toms is a very underrated player and Phil, he's a magician around the greens. We did very well to hold them off."

But there's a more important assessment. The Mickelson-Toms team might represent an important juncture for the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, because the alternate-shot and better-ball matches have been a major problem for U.S. captains for the last two Ryder Cups.

Points by partners have been hard to come by.

In 1999, the U.S. trailed, 10-6, after two days.

In 1997, the U.S. trailed, 10 1/2-5 1/2.

Now, maybe that has turned around. Instead of going into today's singles matches trying to come from behind, the U.S. is even with Europe, 8-8.

In fact, the U.S. has outscored Europe, 7-5, since the first better-ball matches Friday morning.

Mickelson and Toms, who squeezed what looks like an important half-point out of Friday afternoon's alternate-shot match with Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, scored another victory in Saturday morning's alternate-shot match against Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price. It wasn't exactly an overpowering performance, with one birdie, an eagle and one bogey, but it got the job done, which is the task that Mickelson and Toms had been assigned.

"When we play together, for whatever reason, it's the right tempo, the right rhythm, visually watching each other's shots," Mickelson said. "I certainly prefer to be teamed together. I haven't had the greatest success playing against him, so I like him on my team."

Toms, a Ryder Cup rookie, made the team as a result of his outstanding 2001 season when he won three times--at the PGA Championship, at New Orleans and Kingsmill.

Toms says he's a member of the Mickelson appreciation society.

"You know, we're teammates and it's an absolute pleasure for me to play with him. If I was going out to watch somebody play golf as a spectator, he'd be the one."

Simply because he had been able to beat Mickelson twice, head to head, in tournaments, Toms said there is no truth to any suggestion that they somehow carry a grudge.

"I think that somebody is always trying to make a rift out of something that's not there," Toms said. "For us, after the two times that it happened, he shakes my hand, says 'Great going.' That's the way it is. And this week we are teammates, and real close teammates."



Ryder Cup Results

at the Belfry (Brabazon course), Sutton Coldfield, England

Yardage: 7,118. Par: 71

*--* United States 8, Europe 8 ALTERNATE SHOT United States 2, Europe 2 * Phil Mickelson and David Toms, United States, def. Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price, 2 and 1 * Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, Europe, def. Stewart Cink and Jim Furyk, 2 and 1 * Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Scott Verplank and Scott Hoch, 1-up * Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, United States, def. Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, 4 and 3 BETTER BALL United States 2 1/2, Europe 1 1/2 * Mark Calcavecchia and David Duval, United States, def. Niclas Fasth and Jesper Parnevik, 1-up * Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, Europe, def. Phil Mickelson and David Toms, 2 and 1 * Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, United States, def. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, 1-up * Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk, United States, halved with Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley


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