Mike Weir of Canada, who only 10 weeks ago qualified for the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship with his first victory in more than three years, made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 67 in much more agreeable conditions Friday for a one-shot lead over Stephen Ames and Jonathan Byrd.
Ames, the only player in the field who actually lives in Canada, fixed a flaw in his putting stroke and also shot 67, making birdie on three of his last five holes despite missing a 6-footer along the way.
Weir, raised in Bright's Grove, Ontario, now lives in Utah and played only one full round of golf last month when he went to San Diego to check on equipment. Ames was born in Trinidad & Tobago and moved to Calgary in 1991, becoming a naturalized citizen in 2003. He hasn't played since winning the Skins Game, and during his 10-day vacation on Maui, only played 18 holes over two days with his sons.
And here they are on an island in the Pacific, their names atop the leaderboard in the first tournament of the year.
'That's odd,' Weir said. 'We're probably the least ready for it. There might be something to that.'
Canadian tourists on the west coast of Maui won't be hard to find on Saturday.
About 100 of them were standing above the first fairway in the opening round when Ames and Weir playing in consecutive groups, and they seemed to split up. They can stay in one place for the third round. Weir, at 8-under 138, and Ames will be in the final group.
Byrd made birdie on his last two holes for a 69.
Brandt Snedeker was atop the leaderboard most of the round for the second straight day until faltering late. This time it wasn't a broken driver but a faulty putter. He had a 15-foot birdie for a share of the lead, but three-putted for a 69 that left him two shots back.
Nick Watney, who led the first round after a 68, made two late birdies for a 72 and was at 6-under 140 with Snedeker.
The best round belonged to Mark Calcavecchia, certainly no flat-belly but in much better shape for the Plantation Course at Kapalua after hiking up South Mountain outside Phoenix to get his legs in shape. He hit every green in regulation, three-putted twice, but still made nine birdies in his round of 66 and was at 5-under 141.
What helped more than a steady heartbeat was the weather.
Clouds drifted across the Kapalua for most of the day, but there were no steady blasts of showers until the end of the round. The wind wasn't nearly as severe, either, and it reflected in the scoring.
The course played more than three shots easier. Ten players broke 70, compared with only two in the first round.
Perhaps the best example was the 503-yard ninth hole, which plays into the trade wind and was so tough earlier in the week that most players had to blast a fairway metal just to reach the second portion of the fairway. Weir isn't the biggest hitter on tour, but he managed to reach the green in two on Friday, then made a 15-foot eagle putt that sent him on his way.
He played the par 5s in 5 under.
Ames found the answer late Thursday afternoon on the putting green, when he noticed his head too far behind the ball that caused his putter to swing upward too quickly through the ball. He showed up about 10 minutes earlier than usual -- this is a working vacation -- to correct the problem, and took only 26 putts on the tough greens of Kapalua.
Most of his birdies came inside 10 feet, but he got his round going with a pair of 15-footers, and the 20-foot birdie at the end.
'This is a family vacation,' he said. 'Golf keeps getting in the way.'
Weir and Ames are thrilled to be at Kapalua, perhaps because it took so long for them to qualify. Weir's previous victory was the Nissan Open in 2004 as he retooled his swing under Andy Bennett and Mike Plummer. He saw progress, but didn't get any measurable results until one glorious Sunday at Royal Montreal, when he beat Tiger Woods in a singles match before a delirious home crowd at the Presidents Cup.
It was no coincidence that he won three weeks later in Arizona as part of the Fall Series, the third-to-last event of the season.
'I think there was a correlation there,' Weir said. 'It was a tough few years. I felt like I was on my way there. To win after 3 1/2 years is almost harder than the first one.'
Ames won the final event of 2007 at Disney, winning by one shot with a bunker save from 65 feet. He only went to Disney to work on his game, and this week is not much different.
'I went there to work on my game, and I'm still working on my game,' Ames said. 'I'm happy with the progress I've made.'
Twenty players were under par, and the first tournament of the year is still wide open. Ten shots separate Weir from Joe Ogilvie in 27th place among the 31-man field, with four players bringing up the rear.
Calcavecchia is on somewhat of a hot streak. He won the Merrill Lynch Shootout with Woody Austin in December, tied for seventh in the Target World Challenge and is swinging as well as ever.
Plus, he only carried one putter.
Calcavecchia ditched his 5-wood Thursday for a long putter and a conventional one -- the latter being the putter he used to win the PODS Championship in March. He went with the long putter only Friday, and that might be the end of the experiment.
'You'll probably never see it in action again,' Calcavecchia said of his short putter. 'It got me here, though.'
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