La Quinta, Calif.
Left-hander Mike Weir spent the 2002 PGA Tour season feeling . . . well, left out. After winning in each of his three previous seasons, prevailing at such marquee events as the 2000 WGC-American Express Championship and 2001 Tour Championship, he never contended in 2002, failing to collect a single top-10 finish.
So when Weir positioned himself to make a back-nine run at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Feb. 2, he made sure he enjoyed the chase. He also made sure to make the most of his opportunity, rolling in birdies on the final three holes amid difficult, windy conditions on the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West to edge veteran Jay Haas by two shots.
Weir and Haas came to the 543-yard closing hole deadlocked at 29 under, and both hit big drives in the fairway. Haas appeared to have the advantage after Weir chose not to go for the green from a downhill lie 209 yards away, laying up to 85 yards. Haas stepped up with a 4-iron from 194 yards, but slightly mis-hit his approach, with his ball – and his chance at victory – coming up about 4 yards short and sinking to the bottom of the pond that fronts the green. Weir then knocked a wedge to 8 feet and finished his victory in style.
“I was just trying to hit a solid shot and didn’t quite pull it off,” said Haas, a nine-time Tour winner who will be eligible for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 Dec. 2. “. . . I’ll look back on the red-eye (flight) tonight and think about what could have been.”
A week characterized by low scoring (Haas was one of three players who shot 61 and 106 eagles were recorded) changed dramatically Sunday, when strong, gusting winds arose and the field soared to an average of 73.44.
Weir tied for the day’s low round, shooting 5-under 67, and Haas’ closing bogey left him with 69. Tim Herron, who started the final round with a four-shot lead, was derailed by a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 16th hole, shot 75 and tied for third with Chris DiMarco. (On Saturday, Herron matched Joe Durant’s 72-hole mark of 29 under set in 2001.)
Canada’s Weir, 32, became the second consecutive left-hander to capture the Hope, following Phil Mickelson (who tied for sixth this year at 23 under). Weir even matched Mickelson’s 2002 winning score of 30-under 330.
Dating to the final two tournaments of the 2002 season, six consecutive PGA Tour events have crowned international champions. And Weir, on the heels of his second consecutive top 10 (he tied for ninth at Phoenix), is confident he can add to his victory total in the months ahead. Already in 2003 he has earned more money ($922,000) than he won in 25 starts a year ago. No longer is he tangled by expectations of trying to be perfect on the course. Back is his pre-shot, exaggerated waggle, not to mention a little swagger he’s happy to have again.
“I still have some goals that I want to accomplish this year,” Weir said, “and this is a step in the right direction.”
– Staff and wire reports