Weir's future looks Bright-er

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

As recently as five days ago, the notion of Mike Weir pulling off a three-peat at this coming week's Nissan Open would have been far-fetched at best.

By his own admission, Weir's game, especially his putting, had not been in a very good place early this season. Three weeks ago, at the Bob Hope, a tournament he won two years ago, Weir was statistically the worst putter in the field.

Last week, at Phoenix, it wasn't much better.

That said, Weir, of Bright's Grove, Ont., has made a career out of using a stubborn belief in himself to stare down adversity. He didn't win yesterday at the AT&T-Pebble Beach Pro Am, but he played his very best round of the season under difficult, blustery conditions to throw a bit of a scare into winner Phil Mickelson.

PLEASED

"I haven't been playing very well, but my game started coming around this week," Weir said. "Except for the hiccup (Saturday) with my putting, I'm real pleased."

After two strong rounds to open on the Monterey Peninsula, Weir's putter acted up on Saturday and he fell off the pace, shooting a 73.

At the start of the rainy, windy final round yesterday at Pebble, Weir was but a speck on Mickelson's rear-view mirror, 10 shots off Mickelson's record-setting 54-hole pace of 20 under par.

Weir burst out of the gate, with birdies at three of the first four holes, wrapped around a bogey at three. When Weir birdied the ninth, with Mickelson in the middle of a bogey rut, Weir had shaved the lead to six shots, standing alone in second.

After Weir's birdie at 11, the lead was five and a few moments later Mickelson bogeyed the 10th to see his lead shrink to four shots. Mere minutes before, it seemed nothing could stop the Mickelson juggernaut from winning back-to-back tournaments, going wire-to-wire in the process.

And, in the end, nothing could stop Mickelson, who righted himself and maintained his poise the rest of the way to win by four.

Weir's back nine scorecard looks like something routine, a steady string of pars from 12 through 17 but his play was anything but mundane. He was in position to make birdie at most of those holes and left three putts right on the lip. He finished with a 67, the best round of the day by three strokes, the only player on the day to break 70.

"It could have been one of those really special rounds," Weir said. "I burned the edge a number of times. I felt starting the day, that with the conditions, even though he was 10 shots ahead of me, if I could get off to a good start and make a move, it's very easy to make bogeys and double bogeys in these conditions.

"I never felt like I was out of it. If I could have just had a couple (putts) go just after the turn, it might have turned out a little different."

As it turned out, Weir finished at 15-under, a score good enough to win this event most years, and collected $572,000 US, his first significant payday of the season.

Now he turns his attention to Riviera Country Club, in the ritzy Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles, where he will try to accomplish what greats such as Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan have not: Three Nissan Open titles in succession.

"I'm real pleased with my game going into next week," Weir said. "It's a golf course I love and obviously I feel comfortable there."

CLASSIC COURSE

Riviera is, like Pebble Beach, a classic old-style course, not particularly long but very demanding in terms of shot placement. Its smallish, but severely sloped, putting surfaces always are a challenge.

Weir is among a select group of six players who have won the Nissan (known until 1970 as the Los Angeles Open) in successive years in its 79-year history. Palmer, Hogan, MacDonald Smith, Paul Harney and Corey Pavin all did it but couldn't make it a hat trick.

That's Weir's aim this week. It's a tall order, to be sure, but after his performance this weekend, he arrives in L.A. armed with something more than just hope. He's also bringing his game.


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