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Toms turns 35, then shoots 66 in Hawaii

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KAPALUA, Hawaii — David Toms could not have asked for a better day at the Mercedes Championships. He celebrated his 35th birthday, shot a 7-under 66 for a share of the lead, and Steve Spurrier resigned as football coach at Florida.

"That's the best news I've heard in a long, long time," said Toms, the PGA champion and die-hard LSU fan.

Despite the strong Kona winds that knocked down Tiger Woods in a hurry, Toms had a bogey-free round on the Plantation Course at Kapalua and was at 11-under 135, tied with Kenny Perry (67).

Scott Verplank had a 69 and was another stroke back, while first-round leader Mike Weir of Draper had five bogeys to go along with four birdies in a round of 74, putting him at 137.

Mark Calcavecchia hit a 3-iron to 2 feet on the 18th for his second eagle of the round, giving him a 66. He was at 138, along with '99 Mercedes winner David Duval (71).

There wasn't much time to enjoy the spectacular views off Maui. Every ounce of attention was required on club selection because of strong gusts that led to swift changes on the leaderboard and some big numbers.

Garrett Willis took a 10 on the par-5 fifth hole on his way to posting the first 80 of the new season. Woods started his second round of the year with a triple bogey, hitting into the bunker, the tall weeds and never quite recovering.

A birdie on the final hole gave Woods a 1-over 74, leaving him seven strokes off the lead and in no mood to discuss his day.

Toms had no such problems.

He made birdies on the easier holes, eagled the par-5 ninth and stayed clear of the trouble to set himself up nicely for the weekend.

"I was able to sneak in a few birdies when I got it close," he said.

Winning the Mercedes would be the perfect way for Toms to start his season. He quietly has become one of the top players in golf, winning six times over the past three seasons. Last year was a big breakthrough, with three victories and his gutsy win at the PGA Championship for his first major title.

He is in no mood to rest on his success.

"It's not much fun to play bad golf, and I've done that before," Toms said. "Once you taste the success I've had, you want to experience that as long as you can."

Perry, the Buick Open champion, offset a couple of early bogeys with three straight birdies that thrust him into a tie for the lead, and he joined Toms with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole by reaching it in two with a 3-iron.

Not a bad start to his season, considering Perry hasn't played since the Tour Championship two months ago.

"I took my son to Jacksonville (Fla.) about a week before Christmas and played five days down there," he said. "I did a little work early this week, got used to these Kona winds. It's helping."

It hasn't helped Woods.

He hit his opening tee shot into a bunker, and his approach flared to the right in the strong wind, and into the weeds. He finally got to the green in four, then three-putted for a triple bogey. Woods was at 142.

"If you're not striking it well from tee to green, you'll have a hell of a time," Robert Allenby said after his 72. "There were a couple of holes where I had 210 yards to the green and couldn't get there with my 3-wood."

Most of the problems, however, came on the greens.

Verplank, one of six players who had a share of the lead at one point Friday, had a birdie putt of about 10 feet on the par-3 eighth. Three putts later, he walked off with a bogey and was falling behind until recovering with three straight birdies.

The grain is more severe in Maui than on any other course the players will see this year. Add the wind to the mix, and all of a sudden Hawaii is hardly a walk on the beach.

"Putting is very difficult when the wind is blowing like that," Toms said. "You have that grain factor and the wind factor, plus it blows your body around a little bit. I hit a lot of shots pin-high, which I was proud of when the wind is like this. You can three-putt your way around this course pretty easily."