Toms is ready to add to his success in Georgia. His career-defining moment came at nearby Atlanta Athletic Club when he won the 2001 PGA Championship. He also counts the defunct Southern Open at Callaway Gardens among his 13 PGA Tour victories.
After complaining Wednesday about his inconsistency off the tee, Toms managed to place his drives in the right spot and made enough putts to post his lowest score of the year.
“I kept (the driver) in play, that’s about all,” Toms said. “Still didn’t hit it very solid. I’m going to have to hit it better to have a chance. … Today I made enough putts to have a really low round, putted great, but there were times where I didn’t feel like I struck the ball very well, especially off the tee. I had some longer shots where you had to pay defensive, play to the center of the green and take your 30-, 40-footer and get out of there.”
Left-hander Steve Flesch, the 2018 Mitsubishi winner, shot 5-under 67 and is in third place. Veteran European standouts Robert Karlsson of Sweden and Paul Broadhurst of England are tied with 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and Mark Walker, making his first PGA Tour Champions start of the year, for fourth at 4-under 68.
The large group tied for eighth at 3-under 69 includes Atlanta’s Billy Andrade, Duluth’s Scott Dunlap, 2021 European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, Tom Pernice, Glen Day, David Frost and Kirk Triplett.
Duke’s game has been rounding in shape the past two weeks after taking a week off in early April to visit with his coach, the ageless Bob Toski. Duke returned to the Tour and tied for 11th at the ClubCorp Classic near Dallas and last week tied for fifth at the Insperity Invitational in Houston. Friday’s 66 was his fourth sub-70 score in the past seven rounds.
“Anybody that knows (Toski), he slaps you around a little bit,” Duke said. “So he gave me some good thoughts that I was just not doing before, and we had two good weeks in Texas and just carried on here in Atlanta, which is great.”
Duke’s results at the Mitsubishi cover the spectrum. He was 74th at Sugarloaf in 2021 after placing fifth in 2019.
“I hit a lot of fairways – and obviously with ball in hand, you’ve got to do that – but you’ve still got to hit it in the right spots on these greens and take your 20-footers when you can,” he said. “We had a good day and good guys to play with. Just a fun day out there.”
Not everyone had a fun day. Bernard Langer, the 2013 winner, shot 4-over 76. It was his second-highest score in the event.
Davis Love was 4 under through six holes, but a bogey at No. 7 and a triple-bogey at the insidious ninth hole derailed his round. Love finished at 2-under 70, along with his best buddy Fred Couples.
Matt Gogel, who got into the tournament via the Tuesday qualifier, made a hole-in-one at No. 16. It was the sixth hole-in-one in the event’s nine-year history.