Canadian Open quest

Mike Weir hits out of a bunker during his practice round at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in...

Mike Weir hits out of a bunker during his practice round at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster yesterday. The Canadian Open gets underway tomorrow. (Toronto Sun/Craig Robertson)

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

ANCASTER -- In a golf-crazy country that is curiously short on homegrown elite golfers, we tend to lean hard on the ones we have.

For quite some time, "the ones" actually was "the one."

Mike Weir set the bar higher than any player in Canadian golf history when he won the 2003 Masters, one of his seven PGA Tour victories to date.

Now we've inherited Stephen Ames, albeit transplanted from Trinidad and Tobago, but who has also embraced his Canadian-ness.

But for a long time now, the face of Canadian golf has been Weir's and that face is never under more scrutiny than during Canadian Open week.

Most high-end golfers recognize four major championships every year, but Weir is one of those who prepares for five. The Canadian Open may not be a major to most of the players in the field at Hamilton Golf and Country Club this week, but it is to Weir and all the other Canadians in the event.

The previous time the Open came to Ancaster, in 2003, it was Weir's first competitive appearance on home soil since his Masters win and he got the rock star treatment. Flanked by a squadron of police bodyguards, Weir didn't have a moment's peace.

The next year, 2004, the galleries at Glen Abbey were even crazier as Weir contended down the stretch with Vijay Singh and then was beaten in a playoff. It was a crushing defeat not just for Weir but for Canadians who were hoping for one of their own to win for the first time in half a century.

Weir's career has cooled somewhat since then. Now 36 years old, Weir's most recent win came in early 2004 at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles. There is a tendency among his anxious followers to wonder what is amiss but the truth is, not a whole lot is wrong.

The 2005 season was not one of his best. He was struggling with swing changes and with nagging health problems, most specifically a neck problem that just wouldn't go away. He had only two top-10 finishes and missed nine cuts in 23 tournaments, but still took home $1.36 million US.

This year, once again with full health and clean ball-striking, Weir has been far more productive. He's made $1.8 million (25th on the money list) so far and has made 18 cuts in 20 events, including the past 17 cuts in a row. With top-10 finishes in both the PGA and United states Open, as well as an 11th at the Masters, Weir had one of the top six records at majors this year among all players.

"I've been making a lot of cuts and playing some solid golf in a year that has been close to being a fantastic year," he said. "Coming off last year, it been a decent comeback to where I need to be."

Weir is perplexed, though, that none of the hundreds of elite Canadian players who come on the scene every year have taken that last, big step up.

"It's a little surprising because I see a lot of talent in these young players," Weir said yesterday. "Even when I was in college, I saw guys who probably struck it a lot better than I did, and you'd think they were can't-miss. But there's some kind of a missing element. I don't know what that intangible is.

"I don't know whether guys get comfortable at a certain level or what. I'm not sure what that is. But I am surprised."

According to an Ipsos-Reid survey conducted this year, 5.95 million Canadians play golf. That's a participation rate of about 21.5% of the population but still we can't seem to produce players who are ready for the PGA Tour. On the other hand, Australia has flooded the world's tours with players, with more than 20 in the field at this year's British Open.

Weir says he finds that few young players are willing to ask him for advice.

"It's funny," Weir said. "I know when I was coming out, I sought guys out and went up and asked them. Now, it's a different generation, I don't see that. I try to make myself available but they seem to be doing their own thing."

So, too, has Weir and he's been close (but no cigar) this season. But he's still the best chance we've got, after all these years.


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