Weir the ultimate team player

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

MANASSAS, Va. -- You can take the boy out of hockey but you can't take the hockey out of the boy.

As a teenager in Sarnia, Mike Weir gave up hockey to concentrate exclusively on his lonely pursuit of a career in golf. Not a bad decision as it turns out.

But a part of him yearns for the camaraderie of the locker room, the sense of being part of something larger than himself.

Now it hasn't been the best of seasons on the PGA Tour for Weir but, no matter. He is stoked for the Presidents Cup, where he is just one cog in a 12-man team, where he can rely on others just as they rely on him.

If that wasn't evident from his pre-tournament comments it was plain for all to see yesterday. He and South African rookie Trevor Immelman mopped the fairways with David Toms and Stewart Cink, dismissing the Americans 6 and 5 in the opening foursomes session.

Immelman and Weir made, remarkably, six birdies and no bogeys during 13 holes in an alternate-shot format that often can yield few or no birdies, as it did for their unfortunate opponents. Toms and Cink did not win one hole.

"Six under in a foursomes match?" Weir asked rhetorically. "Incredible."

Immelman never had played in this type of match-play pressure cooker but Weir has thrived on it.

He was asked if his team-sport background is perhaps responsible for the way he relishes these events.

"Maybe it does (factor in) a little bit, brings the intensity up a notch," he said. "Maybe I need that sometimes.

"My focus seems to be a little better. I just love team golf."

It also helps to hit the ball in the fairway and on the greens and to make some putts. Weir did all of the above and got some big shots from Immelman along the way.

On the first hole, Weir drilled a long, straight drive and Immelman threw a dart at the flag, leaving the Canadian about 12 feet from the hole. He drained the putt while Toms and Cink could only make a par four.

The teams matched scores for two more holes, then Immelman sank an 80-foot bomb on the fourth, then followed that up by sticking a 153-yard 7-iron about a foot from the hole to go three up. By the end of the front nine, they were four up and moving in for the kill. Two more birds at 10 and 12 set up the end of the match at the 13th green when the teams matched pars.

"Mike gave me a real comfort zone out there," Immelman said. "I've looked at the Presidents Cup stats and knew he would be a good partner. He helped give me a sense of confidence."

"I had a few words with him before we teed off but mostly I think if there was any calming effect, it was that he knows I've played in a couple of these events," Weir said. "I think the biggest thing I could do for him was leave it in the fairway. I never missed a fairway when I teed off; never put him in any stressful situations."

Gary Player, the team captain, knows a good thing when he sees it and is not going to mess with success. Weir and Immelman are back out this morning as a partnership against Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank.

The most recent time Weir played at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club was in the 2000 Presidents Cup. His team got killed 20 1/2 to 11 1/2 but Weir emerged as the only player on the team with a winning record. Until that tournament he had been watching these team events from afar, waiting his turn.

"I put a high priority on this event," he said. "It's such a special opportunity. I find it a tremendous motivation. I was one of the guys in South Africa who wanted to play on (instead of accept a tie) and this is our opportunity to break that tie."

EXAMPLE

Weir no is longer the new kid. He's a veteran of these situations, a guy setting the example for the Trevor Immelmans and the Nick O'Herns.

He's also aware of one thing more.

"Ernie's not here," he said, speaking of Ernie Els. "Everybody has to step up and pick up the slack."

Yesterday, he did just that. He was the kind of grinder of whom even Don Cherry would be proud.


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