2004 Masters Preview
Monday, March 29, 2004
AUGUSTA, Georgia - Mike Weir can't wait to get back to Augusta National Golf Club, and how can you blame him?
Weir took a little side trip to Augusta National before The Players Championship. It was his first visit since winning the 2003 Masters Tournament. He played the golf course and, with his father alongside, savored the triumph.
"Each and every hole we went around and I just reminisced about a certain shot or certain spot and showed him where I was and what I was thinking," Weir said. "That was cool.
"It was fun to get back. Going back to the Masters as defending champion will be really special."
Therein lies the allure of Augusta National and the Masters. Every return for all those who go there - whether champion or fan - is special. The anticipation comes from the place and the game because Augusta National is all about golf and its traditions. Even for an icon such as Arnold Palmer, a four-time Masters winner, there are few things in the game to compare with the atmosphere at the Masters Tournament in springtime.
And the best part, Palmer said, is that little has changed in that regard in the half-century he has played in the tournament.
"The conditions and general things at Augusta are much the same as they have been from the beginning," said Palmer, who will play in his 50th Masters Tournament. "Fifty years ago when I played at Augusta, it was fantastic. It was one of the best places to play golf in the world for a lot of reasons which still exist.
"I don't think the Masters has changed all that much. It has not changed any more than anything else in our lives today. The technology of the game has changed it a little bit. The other things, the traditions and the way they conduct the tournament, it really hasn't changed. It's much the same as it was in the early days."
As a youngster, Palmer cherished the opportunity to mingle with the game's greats - Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Sarazen and the others.
"I think that was one of the greatest things that as a young player I enjoyed very, very much," Palmer said.
It's one of the reasons he looks forward with such energy to returning to Augusta National this year. Today, he is a legend who means so much to the young golfers in the field, a man they cherish being around and with.
Ian Poulter is a young Englishman who has earned his first invitation to the Masters. At 28, he's not old enough to remember some of the traditions. But he remembers enough.
"It's like the putt that Woosy (Ian Woosnam) holed on the last," Poulter said. "And obviously (Nick) Faldo winning on the playoffs and winning against Greg Norman, all those kind of things stick in my mind.
"It's so great now to be able to go there."
Weir will attempt to become the 16th multiple winner of the Masters. His victory in 2003 was the product of a wonderful short game and marvelous clutch putting. Weir defeated Len Mattiace on the first extra hole after they finished 72 holes of regulation tied at 281, 7-under-par.
The Masters already was Weir's favorite tournament, so you can imagine how he feels about it now.
"I'm obviously really excited about defending," said the left-hander from Canada.
There is a contradiction about someone who grew up in the cold and snow and whose childhood fantasies revolved around hockey, not golf, winning a major championship. But there should never be any doubt about Weir's resolve or dedication to the game, or his chances of winning another green jacket.
He played golf anywhere and everywhere he could to achieve his goal. And he survived, like the time his taxi cab broke down on the way to a tournament in Indonesia and Weir carried his bag through rain and mud to make his tee time.
"I think probably then I had a tough time thinking I would win the Masters," Weir said.
"Those times, I think, made me tougher and makes it even more rewarding - the six or seven years I've spent playing smaller tours and driving everywhere and finding a way just to make ends meet, to keep going."
In four starts at Augusta National, Weir has never finished lower than 28th. Clearly, the course suits Weir. He attributes it to his short game.
"The first three years I remember I didn't strike the ball very well," Weir said. "I was able to be really creative with my short game. A big part of it last year was my wedge play on the par 5s.
"I've always felt comfortable with little pitches and the different types of bunker shots and bump-and-runs and long shots that you have to hit at Augusta National. I think that's why I've always felt comfortable."
And that was before he had a green jacket in his wardrobe. Imagine how comfortable he will feel this year. Can't blame him for being eager to return, can you?