There was a lot of talk prior to the start of this past weeks Mercedes Championships about what a wonderful season for which we were in store. And it must be said ' or written ' that so far, so good.
While its still a little early to get super pumped up about a PGA Tour season in its infancy, we can only hope that the majority of the golf tournaments to which we will bear witness in 05 can match the Mercedes ' at least in terms of seeing the big names near the top of the leaderboard.
The talk before Ryan Palmer struck the opening salvo of the season was that this year had the potential to be a blockbuster ' a year in which the top players in the world had all the possibility of playing up to their prolific potential.
We talked about Vijay Singh perhaps even surpassing his accomplishments of a year ago, which will certainly be difficult to do, since he will have to work like a hummingbird ' how their wings flap a million miles per hour just to stay fast ' just to stay in the place he has carved out for himself.
We talked about Tiger Woods returning to his 2000 form. We talked about Ernie Els topping both Woods and Singh for No. 1. We talked about Phil Mickelson making the Big Three a Big Four. We talked about Retief Goosen making the Big Four a Big Five. We talked about Sergio Garcia being a Major player.
But we didnt do a lot of talking about one Mike Weir.
Vijay talked about him, and so did Ernie. But we, the media, didnt have much to say.
Lets start talking.
Weir, much like Goosen and even David Toms, often gets overlooked when we debate as to who are in golfs upper echelon. Hes won seven times on tour, including the Masters Tournament, the Tour Championship, a WGC event and back-to-back Nissan Open titles.
However, even the diminutive and reserved Canadian knows hes not quite on the same level with the likes of Singh, Woods and Els. But hes not too far removed. And this he also knows.
Yeah, I think Im real close, he said following his second-round 10-under 63 at Kapalua. I need to have a very good year this year.
That 63 was Weir peak effort for the week. On the heels of tying his personal best on the Plantation Course, he entered the weekend two back of Singh. He then shot 71-76 to finish tied for 13th.
Weir was on the minds of many after winning three times in 2003, including the Masters. But he slipped from many of those minds after winning only once in 04.
Weir successfully defended his title last year at Riviera, but then missed the cut in his defense at Augusta. He went on to earn a couple of top-10s in the U.S. Open and British Open, yet never really contended at either.
However, it was his Bell Canadian Open collapse thats yellow highlighted.
Weir had a three-stroke lead entering the final round in Ontario, and was looking to become the first Canadian in 50 years to win his National Championship. But, with an entire nation leaning on him and some 25,000 fans vocally backing him first hand, he made three back-nine bogeys on that Sunday and missed three putts that would have awarded him an unparalleled personal victory.
He admitted that he took the loss to heart, much more so than after other tournaments he had lost.
It was a little more to recover from than maybe, you know, probably the PGA, he said in reference to the 1999 PGA Championship, when he was tied with Woods entering the final round at Medinah, only to shoot 80.
I think looking back if I could have done something different, I would have been a little bit more focused, he said of his Canadian Open setback. I think I was interacting with the crowd so much that possibly that may have been a factor. Maybe I did get caught up in it a little bit, because I was having funYou know, you live and learn every tournament.
That loss may have turned out to be Weirs gain, because he said he learned more from that defeat than just maintaining focus ' he learned that he had to improve his putting.
The way I was playing, it was one of those weeks that was magical, ball-striking-wise. I just had everything working together that week and had a lot of close shots but didnt capitalize on hardly any of them, he said. If I would have been putting like now ' I guess thats the Holy Grail of golf, to get everything going together at once.
Weir, whose proficiency with the putter won him the green jacket in 03, ranked 21st on tour in putting average a year ago. Thats a good number. But for a guy who ranked 138th in driving distance, 101st in driving accuracy and 95th in greens hit in regulation, it wasnt enough ' at least not enough to move him into the atmosphere of rarefied air taken in by the worlds top 5 players.
He now believes he can once again reach that upper plateau ' if he can be a little less fidgety on the greens.
Im a real feel-oriented putter, and when I get into a feel, it lasts for a while, he said. The feels Ive used for certain tournaments and the thoughts Ive had for certain tournaments that have won me tournaments were not carrying over last year very consistently, so I had to make a change.
As I processed it in this off-season, looked at some video of my putting throughout last year, I noticed that some things were a little sloppy. I was moving around a little bit; I noticed there was a lot of movement in my posture.
Im working on ' I dont know what the word is ' maybe grounded, or I think stable might be the best word I could use.
Weir worked diligently on his game in the off-season with swing coach Mike Wilson, rather than chasing Dollar Bill around the globe like he did the year prior, when he was a newly anointed major champion.
In addition to stabilizing his putting, he also tried to tighten his swing.
I was getting a little bit of a reverse pivot, and the length of my swing was getting very long, he said. It was causing me some problems.
Weir entered the Mercedes eighth on the world ranking list. And if he can continue to putt like he did in his first outing this season ' particularly the second round, when he needed only 24 swipes on very suspect surfaces ' he should be able to move back into the top 5, and back into the forefront of peoples minds who reside outside of the Great White North.
Such an ascent would delight his legion of fans. Its almost impossible to comprehend just how popular he is north of the American border (as Paul Casey pointed out, Americans are quite insular, after all).
He's a sporting national hero ' heck, even Singh was almost apologetic after denying him his country's most prestigious golf title.
In Utah, where I live now, I can pretty much go unrecognized, unless Im at the golf course and golf fans are around. Where in Canada, I think Im probably a little more recognized, not only by just golf fans, but by everybody, said Weir, who was voted the countrys Athlete of the Year in 2003.
Canadian sports fans are currently deprived of professional hockey. They just lost one of their professional baseball teams. Canadian football season is over. They have but one sorry professional basketball team for which to root.
All they have right now, sports-wise, is Mike Weir ' and curling season. And while golf might not be the most galvanizing sport, it sure beats watching a bunch of people in matching sweaters try and brush-sweep ice.
Hopefully, Ill give them something to cheer about (this year), Weir said.
And plenty to talk about.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs