Open Mike

By Mercer BaggsMay 14, 2003, 4:00 pm
He looked a bit stunned. The surroundings a tad surreal. Were golf a contact sport, he might not have been able to talk. And, for that matter, he had every excuse not to do so.
 
But he did. Because that is who is ' a congenial, likable sort. The kind of guy you root for.
 
Prior to his amazement at Augusta, Mike Weir had been trying to live down what happened outside of Chicago, Ill., for nearly four years. Hed won a Tour Championship; won a World Golf Championships event; won the Nissan Open.
 
But people just wouldnt let him forget about what happened at Medinah.
 
In just his second full season on the PGA Tour, Weir found himself in the final group of the final round in the final major in 1999. To add to the pressure, he was paired with Tiger Woods.
 
Weir and Woods were tied for the 54-hole lead in the PGA Championship. Woods shot 72 and won. Weir shot 80 and slumped to 10th.
 
Sure, its disappointing, but what can I say, said Weir at the time, his eyes almost glossed in shock. I gave it my best and didnt give up. Eighty is the best score I could have shot, obviously. I tried on every shot.
 
Ill be back again.
 
In the following years, Weir established himself as one of the top 20 players in the world. His victories were similar to the way he was publicly perceived: A very good player winning very good events.
 
His first came later that 99 season in the Air Canada Championship, where he was the first Canadian to win on native soil in 45 years. His second came in the 2000 WGC-American Express Championship; No. 3 the 2001 Tour Championship.
 
2002 was a bust. No wins. No top-10s. No chance to even try and defend his title in the season finale.
 
But things changed quickly in 03. Armed with his trusty pre-swing takeback, he won the Bob Hope. He then won the Nissan Open at Riviera.
 
More good wins for a very good player. But a great player needs great wins, in great events ' major events. And Weirs major record was more diminutive than his 59 frame.
 
Entering this years Masters Tournament, Weir had competed in 19 major championships with his lone top-10 that dud-of-a-firecracker week at Medinah.
 
Of course that changed at Augusta. He won a great event. Became a great player.
 
I think I was probably considered a good player, but I dont know if I was considered ' I never considered anybody who had not won a major a great player, Weir said.
 
Maybe Im turning into a much better player, a great player.
 
Congratulations, Mike.
 
What is your jacket size, Mike?
 
Has Wayne Gretzky called you, Mike?
 
Lets go back to Chicago, Mike.
 
It didnt take long for a mention of Medinah in Weirs post-Masters victory press conference. Weir said that experience made him a better player. Said it made him work harder. Said that was a long time ago.
 
I took a lot in that day even though it was a tough day for me; I still took a lot of positives out of there, he said.
 
Fast-forward four years and Weir is set to return to the Chicago area for another major championship. This time, he heads to Olympia Fields and its eponymous country club for the 103rd U.S. Open.
 
And this time, most assuredly, wont end like the last.
 
Reason No. 1: Confidence.
 
I think Im capable of winning every tournament, Weir said when asked if he could complete this years Grand Slam. To win every tournament of the four majors would be very difficult, but Im not saying its out of the realm of possibility.
 
Reason No. 2: Hes more suited for the U.S. Open than the Masters.
 
I would think the Masters would be the last choice for me for a number of reasons: because you have to hit a number of long irons into the greens; you have to work the ball right-to-left which isnt my natural shot, he explained.
 
I would probably say the British Open or U.S. Open suits my game better.
 
Weir has a low ball flight, which means he can keep the ball under the wind currents, and has a more natural ability to play bump-and-run shots -- a qaulity adherent to the British Open and favorable in its U.S. counterpart. Hes also improved his accuracy off the tee. The lefthander found the fairways only 66.2 percent of the time a year ago (ranked 130th on tour). Entering this weeks EDS Bryon Nelson Classic he is tied for 30th on tour in that category, landing in the manicured part 70.8 percent of the time.
 
After a disappointing showing in his first tournament as a major champion (he tied for 18th in the Wachovia Championship, taking 119 putts along the way), Weir decided to skip the Nelson. He expects to play the next three events, however, in preparation for the season's second major.
 
And if he can roll the ball the way he did at Augusta (where he needed only 104 putts), he may well turn the tables on Woods.
 
Tiger is the defending U.S. Open champion. Hes also the man who won the 99 PGA Championship while walking the final 18 holes with Weir. And dont forget about the 99 Western Open.
 
Woods led Weir by four shots entering the final round at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, which just happens to be right outside of Chicago, in Lemont. Weir cut the deficit to two by the turn, but settled for a 70 and second place.
 
Maybe Reason No. 3 is: The area owes him.
 
Related Links:
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