Golden opportunity for Weir

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

For three days this week, Mike Weir looked like the champion he was in 2003 but yesterday, he once again seemed like someone in search of his game.

Two years removed from his last PGA Tour win, Weir was in prime position yesterday, on a golf course that he loves, in a tournament he covets, and suffered an inexplicable Sunday meltdown.

He and eventual winner Arron Oberholser were in the final pairing at the ATT Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, six shots ahead of their closest pursuers when they walked to the first tee.

Starting the day at 17-under-par for the tournament, Weir proceeded to shoot a dismal 78. Only two other players (Dean Wilson at 79 and Harrison Frazar at 81) had worse scores in the field of 66 who made the cut.

As well as Weir has played the past five years on the Monterey Peninsula, he just can't seem to get over the hump. He has finished in the top five the past four years at this event and, despite his terrible round, still grabbed a share of third place yesterday. This one will, no doubt, stick with him for a while, and not in a good way.

Weir had birdied the 18th hole at Spyglass Hill Saturday to finish off his third consecutive round in the 60's and grab a share of the lead with Oberholser, a full six shots clear of the field heading into the final 18 holes.

So, in theory, Sunday should have been a head-to-head match between Weir, a seven-time PGA Tour winner, and Oberholser, still looking for his first victory.

For a guy with Weir's experience, he should have been licking his chops in anticipation. But the truth is, his game just isn't reliable enough right now to leap on this opportunity.

After three very good rounds, including a 63 at Pebble Beach on Thursday, this golden opportunity to get back into the winner's circle turned into an unmitigated disaster.

He and Oberholser both parred the first hole then, at the easy par-five second, Weir hit a tee shot out of bounds on his way to a double-bogey seven. Meanwhile, Oberholser was making birdie for a three-shot lead. Weir never got any closer than that.

By the time the final pair got to the 12th tee, Oberholser had a six-shot advantage and Weir had been overtaken by Rory Sabbatini, who had begun the round seven shots behind Weir.

But even at that point there were indications that Oberholser could still be beaten, despite his huge lead. He started spraying his driver and all of a sudden, Weir and Sabbatini were only four shots behind after 14.

Then, at the 15th, Oberholser got the break that would get him out of danger. Once again he hit an errant drive, far to the right of the fairway into a line of trees. But rather than trouble, his ball found an open area with a clear shot to the pin. Oberholser hit his approach to about 10 feet and made the birdie putt. Meanwhile, Weir proceeded to make bogey from the middle of the fairway.

Game, set and match.

What this does for Weir's fragile recovery from a sub-standard 2005 season is anybody's guess. He, himself, knows that with his size and strength disadvantage, he has to have all aspects of his game in tune to compete and win.

"I don't know if you could say I'm back," he said before yesterday's round. "But it's a step in the right direction. In my mind, I didn't feel like I'd gone anywhere.

"I just wasn't healthy last year. You just can't play against these players out here when you are not at full strength. That's especially so for a guy with my type of game where I have to rely on being precise and hitting fairways. I can't overpower courses, rip it out there and hit a wedge out of the rough from anywhere."

As Weir showed for the first three days of the tournament, the game is still there. It comes in and out of view, but it's still there.

Right now, Weir is a travellin' man in search of that ever-elusive consistency. This week he moves on to another of his favourite courses, Riviera in Los Angeles for the Nissan Open, a tournament he has won twice.


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