The comeback Canadian does it again
By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
February 24, 2003
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Winless a year ago, Mike Weir has it all figured out.
For the second time this month, he went into the final round facing a large deficit and put together a solid round under tough conditions, letting everyone else make the mistakes.
And with the tournament on the line, Weir played it safe.
That was the script again Sunday in the Nissan Open, where the comeback Canadian made up a seven-stroke deficit at Riviera and beat Charles Howell III on the second playoff hole.
``Being seven shots back, especially with Nick (Price) and Charles up there, I was definitely surprised,'' said Weir, who closed with a 5-under 66. ``I wanted to play solid and shoot a good number. Winning wasn't on my mind.''
Weir, of all people, should have known better.
Just four weeks ago, he overcame a four-shot deficit to Tim Herron in the Bob Hope Classic and won when Herron took a quadruple bogey on the 16th hole and Jay Haas hit into the water on the final hole.
In all five of his PGA Tour victories, Weir has trailed going into the final round.
He finished at 9-under 275 and earned $810,000, putting him atop the PGA Tour money list at just over $2 million.
Still, he never could have imagine winning at Riviera.
For one thing, Weir had never made the 36-hole cut at the storied golf course off Sunset Boulevard. And even after his 66 on Sunday that left him tied for the lead, he headed to the practice range as a formality, never expecting to hit another shot that counted.
Howell, the 54-hole leader for the first time, appeared to be in control when he maintained a three-stroke lead going into the final nine holes.
Then came a bogey on the 311-yard 10th, the best little par 4 in golf, when Howell missed the green to the left with his drive and chipped into the bunker. He hit into another bunker on No. 12 for bogey, then three-putted from 60 feet on No. 14.
The PGA Tour's scoring system locked up for 30 minutes, and Weir didn't realize Howell's third bogey on the back nine had dropped him into a three-way tie with Weir and Price at 9 under par.
Still, the 32-year-old Canadian figured he needed a birdie on the last hole because Howell, one of the biggest hitters in golf, still had the par-5 17th.
As Weir was on the practice range, chatting and smiling, he didn't hear any cheers. Howell left his second shot in the rough, chipped short onto the fringe and eventually had to make a 4-foot putt just to get par.
``I let one slip there,'' said Howell, who closed with a 2-over 73.
Price, meanwhile, missed the fairway on No. 15 and the green on No. 16, taking bogeys on both of them to fall out of the picture. He finished with a 1-over 72 and tied for third with Fred Funk (68).
``I wasn't hitting it solid, and I wasn't hitting it where I was aiming,'' Price said.
Howell and Weir both made two-putt pars on the first playoff hole, No. 18. They headed to No. 10, where Weir quickly seized the advantage, then lost it when Howell hit perhaps the best shot of the tournament.
Weir tried to drive No. 10 in the first three rounds, and was lucky to go par-bogey-par. He laid up in regulation Sunday and made birdie, then did the same in the playoff, a 5-wood off the tee and a 74-yard sand wedge to 8 feet.
Anything right on No. 10 is a par at best, usually a bogey.
Howell went right.
He had a remarkable recovery, landing the ball in an area the size of a basketball, the only place he could hit it and have a chance at birdie. The ball trickled 6 feet by the cup.
``Charles hit a hell of a shot,'' Weir said. ``I was in the mindset that I had to make my putt, anyway.''
The putt was true, and the pressure was back on Howell.
Howell didn't make a putt longer than 5 feet all afternoon, and the most important putt of the day stayed left of the cup.
``If I had played like I should have, this never would have gone to a playoff,'' said Howell, who played the final seven holes in 2 over.
``Never at any point today did I think I wasn't going to win the tournament.''
Weir won for the second time in a playoff, the last one coming two years ago in the Tour Championship when he holed a 5-foot putt on the first extra hole.
Howell is 0-2 in extra holes, having lost to Shigeki Maruyama in Milwaukee in 2001.
``Losing them still (stinks) just as bad,'' Howell said. ``It doesn't get any fun.''
Tiger Woods had the best round of the day, a 6-under 65 that lifted him into a tie for fifth at 278. It was the eighth consecutive top-10 finish for Woods, dating to the British Open at Muirfield (tie for 28th).
Woods has played the Nissan Open six times without winning, the most at any other PGA Tour event. He didn't lose his sense of humor.
``It definitely was a goal to get in the top 10 so I can get Ryder Cup points,'' he said.
Weir went last year without a top-10 finish, and now has four in his first four tournaments of the year.
``It's a dream start to the year,'' Weir said. ``Hopefully, I can keep it going.''