Weir finds fairway is the right way

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Through his life in pro golf, Mike Weir has shot more rounds of 71 than he can remember. Indeed, as an elite PGA Tour star, he probably would prefer to forget most of them.

But this one will stick with him, especially if he uses it as a springboard to something special this week at the Bell Canadian Open. Let's face it, not many of those 71s were accomplished by shooting 40 on the front nine, followed by a 31.

"It was obviously a crazy start," he said when it was over. "To be honest, I don't know what was going on. It was shocking, really."

Six holes into his opening round yesterday, Weir was five strokes over par, a lost and frustrated soul. He was dead last, but mostly just dead, on a golf course he absolutely loves to play.

The day previous, he had made it clear that to contend this week, the rule at Shaughnessy would be fairways and greens. Then he went out and broke all the rules. He was wild off the tee and paid dearly.

"I just kept telling myself: 'Get the ball on the fairway.' " he said. "If you don't play out of the fairway here, it's going to be a long day and it was starting to be a long day."

He started bogey, birdie, bogey, bogey, double-bogey, bogey. At No. 7, he finally hit a fairway with his driver and made par. At the par-3 eighth, he made a miracle birdie, holing a bunker shot that had double-bogey written all over it. He capped off the front side at No. 9 with another missed fairway and another bogey, making the turn after 40 strokes.

The recovery began with four consecutive pars on the back, including an 11-foot par putt at the harsh par-4 11th and another par save at 13.

Then, abandoning the driver, Weir started hitting fairways, and some memorable wedges. He birdied Nos. 14, 15, 17 and 18 and the only thing preventing him from a five-in-a-row finish was a missed seven-foot putt at 16.

The round-capping birdie at 18 included a 40-foot putt, accompanied by a Glen Abbey-esque roar from the gallery which clearly appreciated Weir's resilience.

'AWESOME' FANS

"The fans were just awesome," he said. "They hung in all day with me and I'm just glad I could make some putts and hit some quality shots to get myself back into this thing."

Weir's 71 left him five shots off the lead at the quarter-pole, a gap that easily can be bridged with a solid round today. Nobody who followed him through those first six holes would have believed that possible.

"It's resiliency," he said. "You just have to fight back. I've done that since I played the Canadian Tour, since I played over in Asia, wherever. You just have to battle back, shake the dust off and get back to work. Sure, I got off to an awful start but there's a lot of golf to be played and when you hang in there the opportunity to get back is always there. If you hang your head and sulk, you're gonna shoot 80.

"Looking at the overall day, I missed some fairways just by a little bit but on five and six I hit two terrible tee shots."

On the fifth hole, he sniped his drive right into an unplayable lie in a grove of bushes. After the penalty, his lie forced him to hit it back toward the tee some 40 yards. He stung a five-wood for his fourth shot to the front of the green and two-putted for double.

"It was ugly," he said.

Yesterday's effort was reminiscent of another 71 Weir shot, back in 1999 at his first British Open, battling wind and rain to fire nines of 38-33 to make the cut at Carnoustie after shooting an 83 the first day.

He still talks about that round as a stepping stone that helped take his game to a new level. Later that summer he contended into the final round of the PGA Championship. Then, a few weeks later, he won his first Tour title, ironically at the Air Canada Championship here in Vancouver.

This has not been a memorable year for Weir on the golf course. He's never been able to put all the elements together in one tournament.

If he is able to pull it all together, either this weekend or sometime soon, he may just be able to look back at this very special 71 as the source.


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