2003: PGA Tour - Weir best out West
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Jared the Subway guy lost, what, a thousand pounds? Al Roker, too. You might say Wacko Jacko, aka Michael Jackson, looks a little different since his Gary, Ind., youth. And can old friends even recognize Cristie Kerr now?
Then there’s Mike Weir. The before-and-after snapshots of his recent career likewise contrast wildly. It’s as if he’s taken his game to Glamour Shots to get all fluffed up.
Weir, 2002: No top 10s.
Weir, 2003: Two victories and ties for third and ninth in four PGA Tour starts.
What in the name of the Hair Club for Men is going on?
Same body, different mind. That’s the answer. Weir overhauled his outlook during a winter soul search and came out seeing a glass half full. That helps explain why he won the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Feb. 2 and then last week’s Nissan Open, where he rallied from eight strokes down with 13 holes left in the final round and beat Charles Howell III on the second hole of a playoff.
“I got away from the game for a couple of months and reassessed my passion for the game, why I’m playing,” Weir said after sinking an 8-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole, the 315-yard 10th, at Riviera Country Club. “Last year, I wasn’t enjoying myself. And if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re not going to play well.”
Hence we have an athletic version of the Chicken and the Egg. In Weir’s world, the egg now comes first. Pre-determined enjoyment, he said, comes before good scores.
“I was trying too hard, placing too much emphasis on each shot, trying to be perfect,” the left-handed Canadian said after shooting 9-under 72-68-69-66–275 and earning his fifth Tour victory. “I wasn’t letting it happen. Now I’m taking the approach of, ‘Let’s have fun and see what happens.’ I’m using my imagination more because I’m having fun. The flow comes out.”
Weir lapped up the result as well as the process here. The same could not be said of Howell, who led by three strokes midway through Round 4, and the 46-year-old Price, who was tied for the lead before bogeys at 15 and 16.
After chipping in three times in the third round, Weir began Sunday seven shots behind. He said he never thought of winning then. But then he made six putts of 8 feet or longer on his last 15 holes.
Howell, at 69-65-68, started the day three shots in front. He said he never thought of losing on Sunday. But he closed with 73 and missed a 5-foot putt that would’ve matched Weir’s birdie on the second extra hole. He read it to break right; it didn’t. The miss came after Howell hit a magnificent 30-yard bunker shot over greenside sand to a tucked pin on the short side.
“One of those sinking feelings when a putt goes by,” Howell said.
Weir had laid up with a 3-wood 70 yards short of the hole, and birdied as he had in the fourth round. (Ironically, in this era of the long ball, Weir also laid up on the last hole in winning the Hope.) Howell used driver, as he did when going left and bogeying No. 10 in the fourth round. Weir used a driver the first three rounds and was 1 over.
Howell had patched up his putting during a visit to the Callaway Golf putting laboratory in Carlsbad on Monday of tournament week. He discovered his eyes were outside the putting line instead of over it, and fixing the problem paid immediate dividends. In the first two rounds, Howell made 31 of 33 putts of 10 feet or less and 26 of 26 from 7 feet or less.
“It has made quite a difference,” Howell said.
But that uncanny accuracy on the short ones didn’t hold up. He missed a 3-foot birdie putt on 17 in the third round that would’ve given him a four-stroke lead. Then, he missed three putts inside 7 feet on his last 11 holes Sunday. On the last nine of regulation, Howell made three bogeys (Nos. 10, 12 and 14) with short irons in his hand and failed to get up-and-down for birdie from the short side on the par-5 17th.
Howell, half Price’s age, won his lone PGA Tour title last fall at the now-defunct Michelob Championship. But this was his first experience with 36- and 54-hole leads. Price, admittedly uncomfortable while fighting his own swing much of the day, suggested Howell appeared “nervous” and “unsettled” in the fourth round. Howell, though, said he wasn’t.
Price and Howell met through their instructor, David Leadbetter, when Howell was in grade school. Price remains an impressed supporter.
“He doesn’t look to have any chinks in his armor,” Price said after Round 3. “This guy has everything.”
Except one thing. Experience. Howell knows. “I’m still learning,” he said more than once at Riviera before Sunday.
Weir, meanwhile, has learned about what he called his “security.” The first half of last year he ditched his waist-high waggle, which started as a drill designed to help him set the club. Reverting to that comforting swing trigger, he says, has made a significant difference.
“Especially,” he said, “under the gun in a pressure situation.”
Which means about all of ’03 so far.