Nothing to fear but Weir himself
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Mike Weir knows it. So does Shigeki Maruyama and Jeff Maggert and anybody else in the Nissan Open field you want to name. What they all know is this: The only player who can beat Mike Weir today is Mike Weir.
Weir is sitting on a five-stroke lead heading into today's final round at Riviera Country Club, but before you start handing out the silverware, be aware there are few things that can get into the head of a professional golfer. Such as sleeping on a big lead on Saturday night.
"You can never take winning for granted out here," Weir said. "And believe me, I'll be taking nothing for granted (today). All I need to remember is that I was seven behind last year when I won this tournament. I have to keep my foot on the accelerator."
It is a statistical trend that all of Weir's six previous PGA Tour wins have been accomplished from off the pace. In five previous tournaments, he has been either tied or leading going into a final round and didn't win any of them.
"I've been in the lead a few times going into the final round, maybe never as big a lead as this one, and haven't done very well," Weir said.
"I'm looking at this as a major challenge. I want to prove to myself that I can handle a five-shot lead like this and go out there and play solid golf. I want to force whoever is challenging me to go out and do something really phenomenal to catch me.
"Maybe in the past I've tried to change my approach or do too much when I've had the lead and not played well. I don't know.
"What I do know is I've got some things to prove to myself. I'm a little more experienced now and I think I know better how to handle it."
History tells us that, unless your name is Tiger Woods, there is nothing so surmountable as a supposedly insurmountable lead. Just last week, at the Johnnie Walker Classic, no less a competitor than Ernie Els saw a nine-stroke lead evaporate. Els rallied to win in extra holes but was badly shaken by the experience.
And, of course, there always is the 1996 Masters to consider when Greg Norman, leading by six, was overtaken by Nick Faldo.
"My intent is to go out and continue to play the same way I have been playing," Weir said. "I need to manage my game the same way I have this week, hit the ball on the smart side of the hole.
"It's nice to be able to do that when you're putter is on. It gives you the latitude that you don't have to stiff it at every hole."
True enough, but we all know the road to ruin is paved with the best of intentions. Yes, Weir has survived the back nine at Augusta National, perhaps the most intense pressure in big-time golf. But this will be a test of a different sort and he'll probably have to take care not to play too defensively.
Clearly, it also will depend upon how well Maruyama and Maggert, his two closest pursuers, handle the conditions and the pressure.
"Of course I would like to scare Mikey," Maruyama said through an interpreter. "But I hear the weather is going to be very, very bad. It's going to be hard to catch him.
"I hate the rain and the cold," Maruyama said, "but it doesn't seem to bother Mikey, maybe because he is from Canada."
Maggert has seen Weir at his very best, as his Sunday playing partner at Augusta last year. He doesn't expect him to falter.
"Mike plays within his abilities as well as anyone who has ever played the game," Maggert said. "He knows what his strengths are and he plays to them."
That is the essence of what it will take for Weir to bring it home. He must manage his game in the same intuitive fashion that has set him apart from the field to this point. The shotmaking is simple enough for a battle-hardened professional. It is the process that goes on between Weir's ears that will dictate how the day unfolds.