No buts, it's time to putt

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

He has searched amid Hawaii's simmering volcanos, in the desert, in the mirrors of his basement in Utah, on the rain-soaked greens next to the Pacific and in the sunshine of south Florida.

Has anyone seen Mike Weir's putting stroke?

After breezing around The Stadium Course's back-nine yesterday, Weir went looking again next to the Atlantic, in preparation for today's opening round of The Players Championship.

Weir will play with Chris DiMarco and Tom Lehman at 1 p.m. and tomorrow at 8:20 a.m.

With the exception of one brilliant Sunday round at Pebble Beach in February, Weir's season to date has been three months of groping in the dark for a putting stroke he can count on.

He knows what it looks like, knows how it feels, knows when it's right. He is far from discouraged, as a mere mortal might be. Instead, he is eternally optimistic this will be the week when all his patience and hard work will pay off.

As poorly as he finished at Bay Hill, Weir was still third in greens hit in regulation, which is an indication there is not a lot wrong with his long game. Unfortunately, his putting is still inconsistent at best.

He is averaging 29.54 putts per round, which puts him in a tie for 138th on tour. That mediocre statistic alone is all that separates him from being at the top of his game. His ball striking has been, for the most part, superb. He is 14th in greens-in-regulation, normally a barometer of who is hot and who is not.

CONFIDENT

"I'm still working on that and I'm confident it will become more consistent. I feel like I'm right on the verge of playing really well," said Weir, as he headed for the practice putting green for a few hours of work yesterday afternoon.

The line between mediocrity and excellence at this level is very thin indeed. At 29.5 putts per round, Weir needs to shave about two shots off that total to make himself competitive. Doesn't sound like much, especially to a guy who relied on his putter to win the 2003 Masters. Two putts a round translates into eight shots in a tournament. Often, that's all the difference between winning and being an also-ran.

Weir is hardly alone in his quest.

"It's always a work in progress," said Padraig Harrington, the Irishman who won his first PGA Tour event two weeks ago at the Honda Classic. "It's always a matter of bringing it all together and it's never easy."

Weir is encouraged by the conditions he has seen at TPC at Sawgrass this week.

In the past, when the course has been dry and hard, he has struggled at this venue. This week, he thinks the soft fairways and greens could be to his advantage.

"Except for a few holes, I think we can be a little more aggressive this week just because of the conditions," he said. "The fairways and greens are softer."

Still, Weir knows this is no easy task. This is one of the toughest golf courses he and his mates will see all year.

"Even though the rough isn't as deep as it has been, you still have to drive it well here to put yourself in the best possible position to go at pins.

"There are a lot of angles you have to play. It's a very precise golf course."

Weir spent Monday at Augusta National, reacquainting himself with the course that produced his greatest victory two years ago.

As always, he found some changes to the golf course, though this year they are much more subtle than in recent years.

"There's a new back-right pin position on four (a long par-3); the front of the 10th green is more severe now, slopes right off so you have to get your approach shot well up onto the green; they can now put pins front left and front right of 15 (a reachable par-5) because they've changed the steepness of the slope. But it's borderline, you can putt it right off the front into the water if you're not careful."

At Augusta two years ago, Weir's putter was a magic wand that stroked everything it saw into the middle of the hole.

He's hoping he brought some of that mojo with him back to Ponte Vedra Beach.

The search continues.


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