Players turning back the clock at Nelson

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IRVING, Texas - Excuse me while I download this AOL software, dial up the modem and wait a few minutes for the HP Byron Nelson Championship leaderboard page to appear.

I mean, this is 2001, right? We’ve been transported in some golf-cart time machine, I assume?

How else to explain what’s going on here, with Mike Weir near the lead and Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington just behind him?

(Heck, if David Duval, who opened with a 66, didn’t miss the cut, it might have been enough to even pull the most casual golf fans away from their Backstreet Boys CDs to watch the tournament.)

“Maybe we have Byron's spirit with us, the old boys dragging him along a little bit,” Goosen suggested while nodding toward the Nelson statue here at TPC Four Seasons.

On the PGA Tour alone, Weir, Goosen and Harrington have combined for six major titles, 20 victories and 185 top-10 finishes, but those haven’t been recent developments. These days? They’re ranked 605th, 222nd and 206th in the world, respectively.

And yet, here they are on the Byron Nelson leaderboard, with Weir at 6 under, Goosen at 5 under and Harrington at 4 under – all of them in serious contention entering the weekend.


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“Great to see those guys up there, they're colleagues of mine, right in my era, glad to see them playing well,” Weir said. “Those guys still have plenty of length, but I think that short game is number one around this course. I think you have to be creative around the greens.”

In 18 previous starts this season, Weir has made the cut just six times with a best finish of T-44. Last year he was 9-for-22. The year before, 0-for-14. Before that, 2-for-15. His last top 10 came in his first start of the 2010 season, a sixth-place finish at the Bob Hope Classic.

It’s enough to make a former Masters champion start questioning his goals.

“There were plenty of times I was very down and maybe wondering what I was going to do next,” he admitted. “You start to question if you want to keep doing this. Especially, you know, I have two young daughters that are teenagers now and being away from home gets harder.”

Graham DeLaet, a fellow Canadian tied with him on the leaderboard, has seen the fruits of that labor.

“He works harder than probably anyone out here and you’ve got to appreciate that,” DeLaet said. “He was my hero and idol growing up so it's cool to see and maybe something special could happen and we could be paired together late on Sunday. It would be a lot of fun.”

Hampered by back injuries for years, Goosen insisted he hasn’t felt this good in “seven or eight years” – and it’s showing in his performance.

After being able to compete in only 21 total events the past two seasons, the two-time U.S. Open champion has already competed 16 times this season alone, with a pair of top 10s in the mix. Now he’s trying to improve on those results, seeking his first win this decade.

“I think I'm starting to play a little bit more consistent; just need a good four days together,” he said after rounds of 70-65. “You know, it's been awhile since I've been there. At some stage hopefully I'll have that chance again.”

Just two weeks ago, Harrington dropped outside the top 200 in the world for the first time in 938 weeks – a span that, remarkably, dates back to 1996.

He’s gone 16 PGA Tour starts without a top 10 and has only one result better than 60th so far this year.

“Look, my game hasn't been as good this year,” he said. “I'm addressing it, and I feel I'm addressing it the right way. I see some positive signs. A lot has to do with my putting. It hasn't been so strong and that feeds back into the game. I'm seeing some good stuff. It's not an overnight thing.”

For now, the golf-cart time machine remains set to 2001. Soon we’ll find out if we can keep living in the past here throughout the weekend.