YOU DON'T get to be the No. 1 golfer in the world without an insatiable thirst for winning, but the victory champagne didn't taste quite so sweet to Vijay Singh this time. Singh is cutting a wide swath through the golf world and Mike Weir got caught in the backwash yesterday.
Singh won the 100th anniversary Canadian Open in a three-hole playoff after pulling even with Weir on the 72nd hole. But there was little joy afterward, despite the fact he had just won his seventh tournament of the year.
"I feel for Mike," said Singh. "If there was one person I didn't want to beat this week, it was Mike."
Singh knew very well that his good friend Weir was trying to become the first Canadian in 50 years, and the first native-born in 90 years, to win the Open. He had seen and appreciated the emotional crowds cheering their favourite all week. But, in the end, business is business.
At the end of a day when both Weir and Singh gave each other ample opportunity to win, Singh had no choice. After Weir's approach shot to the 18th green on the third playoff hole went to a watery grave, Singh had a chip and two putts to win.
This was definitely one that got away on Weir. He blamed it on his own balky putter.
"I felt like if I could have putted half-way decent, it wouldn't have even been a golf tournament," said Weir. "I made one putt on 10 today and that was the only putt I made the last two days, really."
Weir also admitted that he had a difficult time keeping his emotions in check, knowing that he was carrying the entire country on his shoulders.
"I was never comfortable on the greens the last two days. I wasn't able to gather my emotions like I normally do," said Weir, who began the day with a three-shot lead. "Looking back, that's probably why I didn't feel comfortable."
While Weir's putter wouldn't let him put any distance between himself and his pursuers, chiefly Singh, he was able to maintain a lead all the way to the 72nd tee.
Along the way, he had squandered many opportunities to put a fork in this tournament but each time he let Singh off the hook.
Down the back nine they came, with Weir holding his game together with a strong iron game and an iron will. Despite a costly three-putt bogey at the par-5 13th, Weir came out of the valley holes to the 16th tee with a two-shot advantage.
He killed his drive at 16, then hit an 8-iron to the green leaving himself eight feet for birdie and a potential three-stroke lead with just two holes to play. Instead, he left the 16th on shaky ground, having missed the eight-footer and the four-foot comebacker. The lead was down to one.
"I thought the first putt was going right in the middle," he said. "I couldn't believe it rolled five feet by. I totally misjudged it."
Meanwhile, up ahead, Singh finished his 72nd hole with a scrambling birdie, just as Weir stepped up to the tee. The game was tied, but Weir had birdied the 18th in two of his previous three rounds.
But when he most needed his putter to succeed, his nine-foot birdie putt burned the edge of the hole and stayed out, sending the matter to a playoff, with both players at nine-under-par.
The first time through at 18, Singh two-putted from 40 feet for birdie. Weir had 27 feet for eagle, having hit a magnificent 217-yard 5-iron to the centre of the green. His missed it by an inch.
At the next hole, the 17th, Singh lipped out a 10-foot putt for par, leaving the door ajar for Weir again.
"I looked at my caddie and said: 'Well, I had my chance,'" said Singh, fully expecting Weir to end the tourney right there.
The lefty had six feet to win the tournament and again let Singh off the hook, rolling it over the edge.
Back at the 18th again, Singh slammed his drive long down the middle. Weir got caught in the deep rough down the right side and had to lay up. Singh hit his approach into the back rough just off the green.
Then, needing to stick his 130-yard approach close, Weir gunned it off the back of the green and into the water.
From there it was an anti-climax as Singh chipped on and two-putted for the win.