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Garcia begins new season in a big way

Spaniard beats Toms in playoff at Mercedes

SHARE Garcia begins new season in a big way

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Sergio Garcia set his goals high and took a big leap in the first tournament of the year, making birdie on the first playoff hole Sunday to beat PGA champion David Toms in the Mercedes Championships.

Garcia, who wants to win the money list on the PGA Tour and the European tour, holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation to close with a 9-under 64 and force a playoff with Toms, who missed a birdie putt from about the same distance.

They finished at 18-under 274.

Returning to the 18th for the playoff, Toms hit a sand wedge from mangled rough to about 30 feet and two-putted for par.

Garcia pitched to about 10 feet past the hole — in almost the same spot from where Toms had his birdie attempt to win in regulation. The Spaniard dropped his putter and raised his arms as the ball disappeared into hole.

Tournament officials drove a Mercedes toward the 18th green to give to Garcia. More valuable is the $720,000 winner's check — a good start for a 21-year-old player who's shooting for a monster year.

No one has ever won the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year. Tiger Woods had enough money to do that in 1999 and 2000, but he never played enough European tour events to be a member.

Garcia plans to play the minimum 15 in the United States and 11 in Europe. He already has a headstart on Woods, who does not plan to return to the PGA Tour until Pebble Beach.

"Amazing," Garcia said.

The final round reminded him of his last victory, when he closed with a 9-under 63 in Sun City, South Africa, and then beat Ernie Els in a playoff.

It almost reminded Toms of the PGA Championship.

Needing a birdie 4 to win on the final hole, Toms laid up on the 663-yard 18th, just like he did at Atlanta Athletic Club when he beat Phil Mickelson with a par 4. Trusting a short game that has brought him six victories in the last three years, Toms hit wedge into 10 feet behind the hole.

The repeat finish stopped there.

His birdie putt for the victory curved ever so gently with the grain at the last moment and hung on the left lip, sending him into a playoff.

Kenny Perry, who shared the 54-hole lead with Scott Verplank, needed eagle on the last hole to get into the playoff but hit his drive into

the left rough. He holed a meaningless 40-footer for birdie and closed with a 69 to finish at 275.

Garcia started the final round four strokes back, but wasted little time getting into contention on a breezy, cloudy afternoon off the west coast of Maui.

The wind was not nearly as fierce as it was Saturday, turning the final round into such a shootout that six players had at least a share of the lead at one point.

Woods was not among them, having started 10 strokes behind. He closed with a 65 and finished in a tie for 10th, seven strokes behind. Woods has never finished worse than 10th in five season-opening tournaments.

"Very good start" to the season, Woods said. "It's just unfortunate for me that I didn't putt that well the last two days with the wind howling."

Woods boarded his private plane for New Zealand to play in the New Zealand Open, despite the fact a letter containing cyanide and threatening to disrupt the tournament was sent to the U.S. Embassy in New Zealand.

Garcia nearly drove the downhill, 398-yard sixth hole for an easy birdie, then hit his approach into the 521-yard ninth to about 2 feet for a tap-in eagle. He holed a slick, 12-footer birdie putt on the 10th to take the lead at 15 under.

Chris DiMarco, playing in the group behind, made birdie on No. 9 to join Garcia, but DiMarco played the back nine in 38. Verplank disappeared early by hitting into the canyon along No. 5 and taking double bogey.

Defending champion Jim Furyk charged into a share of the lead at one point, but his 65 left him three strokes short.

Toms refused to go away.

Twice he dropped out of the race, but only momentarily. He atoned for a bogey on the par-5 fifth hole by pitching it for eagle on No. 9. Then, when he was two strokes off the lead with six holes to play, he birdied four of the last five holes.