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Weir overcomes odds – and oddities – to win 2003 Masters

Mike Weir
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Mike Weir remembers the moment it hit him.

It happened somewhere between the final putt and the presenting of the green jacket. There were no players or officials or patrons around. Just Mike, alone with a sobering realization: I am a Masters champion.

Weir recalls the moment with clarity. He isn’t one to dwell on the past, but he has spent a lot of time recently reflecting on his victory in the 2003 Masters, if only because people keep asking him to do so as the 10-year anniversary nears.

A decade ago, Weir became the first Canadian and the first left-handed player to win at Augusta National. He did so on a 7,290-yard layout, further lengthen by waterlogged conditions. He triumphed over 73 holes contested in three condensed, consuming days.

Weir’s week began the weekend before. He drove from Atlanta, Ga., to Augusta after missing the cut at the BellSouth Classic. The short stint at TPC Sugarloaf was a shock to the system. Weir had won twice in his first four starts of the season and hadn’t finished worse than T-27.

“Missing the cut the week before the Masters was a wakeup call, because I played undisciplined golf,” Weir recalled. “I remember vividly, I was firing at pins that I wouldn’t normally attack – I just got out of my game plan a bit that week.

“When I arrived at Augusta early, it was all about getting back to having a good game plan and sticking to that. That’s when I do well. But my confidence was still there.”

Tiger Woods, Martha Burk and Augusta National

The Preamble

Two-time winners tend to generate a lot of hubbub entering the season’s first major. But in 2003, the Masters was awash in white noise, drowning out any Weir buzz.

There was Tiger Woods.

Woods had three wins in five starts and was the two-time defending champion. He was a 7/5 favorite to become the first player ever to win three consecutive Masters Tournaments.

On Woods, Weir said: “I didn’t let Tiger or anybody affect what I was doing. I was so focused on my game. I’m a pretty one-dimensional player – I keep my ball in the fairway and rely on my short game. I can’t unleash one 320 (yards) – don’t have that shot. My game is not going to change because of anybody else in the field. I have to execute my game better than everybody else does.”

Gray: Mattiace's bittersweet memories of 2003 Masters

There was Martha Burk.

The National Council of Women’s Organizations chair wanted female members at Augusta National. Club chair Hootie Johnson didn’t want to be held “at the point of a bayonet.”

A protest was set. Anticipation was intense. And it came to a head that Saturday in a muddy field segregated one-half mile from the front gate. With roughly 40 protesters. And one Elvis impersonator, one cross-dresser and one Klansman.

It wasn’t the March on Washington St. It was a David Lynch movie.

On Burk, Weir said: “Oh … yeah. She didn’t have much support.”

And then there was the weather.

The inclement conditions arrived around the same time as Weir. Officials would not allow patrons onto the grounds Monday for fear of course damage. Tuesday was open to the public, but still rather unpleasant. Wednesday was good enough to hold the Par 3 Contest. Thursday …. well, they didn’t play golf on Thursday.

Masters Tournament

Day 1: April 10, 2003

Weir was scheduled to tee off in the opening round of the 67th Masters at 10:11 a.m. ET, alongside two-time winner Tom Watson and Padraig Harrington. But it rained and rained, so, instead, he spent the day like this:

“I remember waiting around for a while and reading a book – got one of the old books off the bookshelf at Augusta. Just a lot of sitting around and waiting, eating,” said Weir, who was staying that week in a hotel, but had rented a house for friends and family. “We eventually went to a movie.”

Prior to the first round, during the occasional practice opportunity, Weir had been working on hitting a fade. The significance of this note will be made clear later.

He had also been fine-tuning his short game. Not that it mattered. Augusta National was a beast on dry land, a Kraken in the water. Only the longest hitters had any chance at survival.

“The golf course is going to play 7,600 yards this week,” Ernie Els said that Tuesday.

Els, who won the season’s first two events in Hawaii, was Augusta’s second favorite, behind Woods, at 8/1. Davis Love III, The Players champion, was 12/1. Phil Mickelson, still major-less at that point, was 15/1. Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, was 18/1. Weir was 20/1.

“I was probably under the radar a little bit, because I’m not a long player. Even as well as I was playing, no one expected me to win there,” Weir said.

Mike Weir

Day 2: April 11, 2003

They played golf Friday. Lots of golf. Thirty holes, for Weir. After the first round concluded, Weir (70) was four back of Darren Clarke, who led outright after a 6-under 66.

Round 1 began at 7 a.m. Round 2 began at 2 p.m. When darkness halted play, Weir was in front of Clarke by two. Beginning his second 18 on the second nine, he birdied Nos. 2 and 3 before the horn to reach 6 under.

Clarke was at 4 under. Mickelson was in third place, at 2 under. Woods, meanwhile, was eight strokes back, 2 over par through 28 holes. His bid for a three-peat unraveling in an opening 76.

Weir’s game plan was working. He didn’t hit it far, but he hit it straight. When he missed greens, he got up and down. He made eight birdies and only two bogeys.

“I was dialed in with my wedge game and my putter,” Weir assessed. “The underrated part of my game that week was my driving. I drove the ball great that week. The course was long, but I was in the fairway a lot.”

Weir was as efficient as possible, but it didn’t make the experience any less exhausting.

“Tiring. Tiring,” Weir said when asked to describe Day 2. “That golf course was long and wet. It was a long day with a quick turnaround. I played right till dark and then (had) to go do media. Had dinner late that night and then was up at 4 in the morning.

“Where it affected me was Saturday.”

Mike Weir

Day 3: April 12, 2003

After wrapping up the final six holes of his second round – with one birdie, one bogey and four pars – Weir led the field by four shots, at 6 under par.

Paired with Clarke in Round 3, Weir felt the effects of Friday. He grew lethargic. His legs began to cramp because of dehydration. His most valuable commodity – his mind – even slipped a little.

“I hit a couple of loose irons shots and put myself on the wrong side of the hole – something you cannot do at Augusta,” Weir said. “The only impatient shot I hit, I went for 13 (a par 5) – I went for the green off of a hanging line. I hit a pretty good shot, but it didn’t carry enough. Went into the creek and made 6.

“Put it on the wrong side of the hole on 15 and 17. A couple of three-putts later and it’s a 75.”

Weir still had a reservation in Sunday’s final round. He stood at 3 under par, two back of leader Jeff Maggert, who shot 66 Saturday afternoon. Singh and David Toms were knotted at 2 under. Woods had played himself back into contention with a 66. He was tied with Mickelson and Jose Maria Olazabal at 1 under.

Len Mattiace sat quietly in a group at even par.

Mike Weir

Day 4: April 13, 2003

Weir didn’t tee off until 2:50 p.m. Sunday. A man waits around that long to play in the final group, in the final round of a major, and he’s bound to go mad. Weir, however, had no problem filling the time and remaining sane.

“Got a full night’s sleep and got fully hydrated. I remember in the morning, just hung out with my family and had breakfast. Think I read a book and got to the course early,” Weir said. “I remember ‘Happy Gilmore’ was on in the locker room. Watched a little of that and had a laugh, and went out to practice.”

Playing alongside Maggert, Weir cut his overnight deficit to one with a birdie on the par-5 second. By the time they walked off the par-4 third, Weir was two ahead.

After hitting 2-iron into a fairway bunker on the short third, Maggert’s second shot, a wedge from 106 yards, ricocheted off the lip and struck him in the chest. Two-stroke penalty. Triple-bogey 7.

Maggert ultimately finished fifth after a 75, which also included an 8 on the par-3 12th. Mickelson (68) was third, Furyk (68) fourth. Woods shot 75 to finish T-15.

Singh wasn’t a factor, nor was Toms. Neither man broke par. In fact, only five players shot in the 60s that day and no one scored better than Mattiace.

Mattiace, a 35-year-old, two-time Tour winner, played his first 12 holes in 4 under to get within one of Weir. When he eagled the par-5 13th, he had the outright lead. For good measure, Mattiace birdied the par-5 15th to reach 7 under, grabbing a two-stroke advantage – and, finally, Weir’s full attention.

“I had heard some noise up ahead, but I hadn’t really watched the scoreboards,” said Weir, who spent most of the day three holes behind Mattiace. “So, at 13 I asked Brennan (Little), my caddie, ‘What’s going on?’ and he told me Len was having a career round up ahead. That made my decision easy, on 13.”

Remember about 900 words ago when we foreshadowed the importance of Weir perfecting a fade. Here’s the payoff.

“I hit my drive in the fairway, on the left side,' Weir said of how he played 13. 'There were trees overhanging so much that I had to start the shot to the right of the water to almost cut it around. It was not the ideal shot for me. At that point, though, I needed to take my chances.”

He was only 193 yards from the hole, but he had made 6 the day before trying to go for the green in two. Faced with a flatter lie than before, and a two-stroke deficit, Weir gave it a-go. His 4-iron shot finished off the back, left of the green, 50 feet from the hole.

Before Weir could attempt his eagle effort, however, Mattiace made another birdie at the par-3 16th. The deficit was three.

“I had to make birdie (on 13),” Weir said. “The first shot (a putt) had to go down a valley and back up, and then quickly to the hole. It went about 15 feet past and I made the come-back.”

The normally reserved Canadian made one, two, three fist pumps after holing the putt. He knew there was little chance to catch Mattiace without that birdie.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I knew.”

Weir parred 14, making a 5-foot putt, to remain two back. Up ahead, Mattiace bogeyed 18. And when Weir made birdie on the par-5 15th, shortly thereafter, the two were tied.

Mattiace was in the clubhouse at 7 under, following his 65. Weir had three holes remaining. Three pars and he was in a sudden-death playoff.

“That wasn’t my mindset. My mindset was to make a birdie – make a birdie on one of these final three holes and win the Masters,' Weir said. 'Hit a really good shot on 16 and missed that putt. Hit a poor iron shot on 17, but nearly made the (birdie) putt. And then hit two nice shots into 18.

“That shot (the approach on 18) looked like it was going to get up to the back – at least from the fairway. It was a penetrating flight; it just landed a little fat. I thought I was going to have about 15 feet, left of the hole for birdie. I heard the oohs and aahs from the fairways and when I made it up there I was a bit surprised.”

Weir had 45 feet, uphill with a sharp left-to-right break, to win the Masters.

“It was a new pin placement (on 18). It was middle, right. I don’t know if we’ve ever had it there and I don’t think we’ve had it there since,” Weir said. “From the left side it was a difficult putt. I was just looking to two-putt. If it fell in, it fell in. I just didn’t give it quite enough speed to have it start breaking quickly at the top of the hill. Left me about 7, 8 feet short.”

In the aftermath of his victory, and in all the years since, Weir has stated in relationship to his playoff-inducing putt: “I wouldn’t wish that kind of pressure on anybody.”

Except himself. For nearly four rounds, he had 103 putts – despite hitting only 38 of 72 greens in regulation. He had not made a bogey in the final round. One more putt, one more par and the dream was still alive.

“I was putting real well all week and told myself to just hit a good putt and I could live with the results,” Weir said. “I was so focused that I was as calm as I’ve ever been in that situation – trying to win a golf tournament. It’s hard to believe, but that’s as calm as I’ve ever been.”

The putt was dead center.

Mike Weir

The playoff

After signing his scorecard, Weir was whisked to the 10th tee to face Mattiace, who had not struck an official shot in 40 minutes. Both men hit the fairway off the tee, but while Weir found the green with his 7-iron second shot, Mattiace hooked his 6-iron approach.

With a knobby pine impeding his line to the hole, Mattiace hit a bump-and-run that ran 30 feet past the hole. Weir kept Mattiace alive by racing his 45-foot birdie putt 6 feet by – nobody told the pair that they had rolled the green for the playoff – but Mattiace missed his par putt. And his bogey putt.

Weir needed only to two-putt, and so he did. He raised both arms in triumph, shook Mattiace’s hand and hugged his caddie. His wife, Bricia, whom he met at BYU, ran onto the green and leaped into his arms.

They had been through a lot of lean times – mini-tours, exotic tours, multiple trips to PGA Tour-Q-School – to reach this high.

“It was just a feeling of satisfaction that I was able to keep my mind right for 73 holes. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of self-satisfaction, more than anything,” Weir said of the moment that final putt fell.

Mike Weir, 32, of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, was a major champion. A Masters champion.

“I didn’t think my best chance to win (a major) would be there – maybe U.S. Open or British Open,” Weir said. “But I was playing so good that it didn’t matter.”

For the record, Weir ranked 39th for the tournament in driving distance (271.2 yards), but was T-11 in accuracy (42/56 fairways hit) and fourth in total putts (104). He was also T-1 in par-5 scoring (10 under).

That evening was special, and, like the week as a whole, tiring. Weir met his media obligations, ate at the members’ dinner and left the course around 11:30 p.m. He then went to his rented house to celebrate with friends, family and a few caddies.

But along the way there was a moment. It occurred after he left the 10th green and before Woods put the green jacket over his shoulders.

“It hit me when we took the cart ride back to Butler Cabin. I had a chance to go to the restroom and put some water on my face,' Weir said.

'It just kind of hit me that, wow, this really just happened.”