Sunday, April 13
Mistake-free Weir gets ultimate reward
By Ivan Maisel
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Masters history is filled with Sunday magic, the kind that Len Mattiace spun for 17 holes in the final round. He stood 8-under on the 18th tee Sunday, one par away from a 64, the same score that Gary Player shot in the final round to win in 1978. He had charged the way that Masters champions charge, eagling the par-5 13th to take the lead, then making birdies at the 15th and 16th to give himself a two-shot margin.
Augusta National has a place for players with imagination and a flair for the dramatic. It's the Butler Cabin, site of the green-jacket ceremony.
But The Masters also rewards grittiness, golfers who refuse to give in to its temptations. That's how Nick Faldo won his third Masters in 1996, steadily hitting greens while Greg Norman imploded over the back nine. When Player won the first of his three Masters, in 1961, he got up and down out of a bunker for par at 18, and won by one when Arnold Palmer made a double bogey at the last. Player let the other guy make the mistake.
That's why Mattiace didn't win The Masters. That's why Tiger Woods held a 42 regular green jacket for Mike Weir, the 32-year-old Canadian, to slip into Sunday night. Wearing all black, Weir seemed to be channeling Player on Sunday. Weir shot a bogey-free, error-free 68 on Sunday to finish at 7-under 281. That was enough to catch Mattiace, who stood on that 18th tee, blocked his drive into the woods and made bogey.
Weir needed only the 10th hole to win the sudden-death playoff, making a tap-in bogey after Mattiace three-putted his way to a double bogey. The way Weir putted Sunday, if he had needed the 15-foot putt for par at No. 10, he would have made it.
When Weir needed a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 13 to get to 6-under and within two shots of Mattiace, he drained it. When Weir needed to make a six-foot uphill putt at No. 18 for par to get into the playoff, the ball went right through the front door.
"I wouldn't wish that last putt on 18 on anybody," Weir said. "That's as nerve-wracking as it gets. ... It probably was the best I putted, definitely inside of 10 feet."
In a year when the cold and rain made this a Masters for long hitters only, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound Weir won. Leave it to a Canadian who grew up hitting balls into Lake Huron to win in the wintry conditions that settled over Augusta through Friday night.
He is the first Canadian to win a major championship, which is why his press conference Sunday night had to wait until he finished his phone conversation with Prime Minister Jean Chretien. One of them is the most popular person in the nation right now, and it's not Mr. Chretien.
"This is something I've dreamt of for a long time," Weir said.
Weir is also the first left-hander to win a major championship since Bob Charles won the British Open in 1963. Phil Mickelson, who had expected to fill that role, finished at 5-under, alone in third for the third consecutive year. Woods' bid for a third consecutive Masters championship quickly fell apart. Four strokes out when the day began, Woods double-bogeyed No. 3, played the front side in 39 and finished tied for 15th at 2-over 290.
Weir joins Woods as a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year, and, with the first-place winnings of $1,080,000, surpassed him on the money list to move into first with nearly $3.3 million.
Weir led the tournament at the end of play Friday, reaching 6-under through 30 holes. He led by four strokes at the end of 36 holes Saturday morning, only to shoot a raggedy 75 on Saturday and fall into second place at three-under 213, two shots behind Jeff Maggert.
Weir refused to speculate Saturday night on why his normally accurate iron play abandoned him on the back nine of his third round. Turns out he was exhausted.
"I think the week took its toll and my legs were really cramping," Weir said Sunday night. "I got back to the room and put my legs up, sat in a hot bath and slept probably almost 10 hours last night. I was just beat. I felt much better when I woke up today. So I knew my legs would be fresher. I felt more stable over the ball when I was hitting my approach shots, and it paid off."
Of the 10 players within five shots of the lead when play began Sunday, one of the last given any chance to win was Mattiace. Ten minutes after Woods strode across the veranda Sunday afternoon, security phalanx in position, the lanky Mattiace loped through unaccompanied and unbothered.
The 35-year-old Mattiace played in his first Masters in 1988 as a member of the previous year's Walker Cup team. It took him 15 years to get back. After an amateur career filled with success, Mattiace took three years to earn his PGA Tour card, and when he lost it in 1993, he needed three more years to earn it back.
"Going out of college, All-American, zip right into the pros, win my first or second year, top 30 every year -- that's what I was thinking," Mattiace said Sunday night.
Instead, he spent a decade in constant struggle with his swing. When he finally won an event in 1997, it was something called the Compaq World Putting Championship against a mix of Tour players, club pros and amateurs.
Finally, in 1998, Mattiace challenged for the Players Championship. His mother, Joyce, dying from cancer, came out to watch him in her wheelchair. Mattiace led the tournament when he reached the 17th tee on Sunday. He hit the ball into the water twice, made an eight, and the violins screeched to a stop.
In February 2002, in his 220th PGA Tour event, Mattiace won the history-rich Nissan Open at Riviera, coming from three strokes back with seven to play to beat Scott McCarron. Last summer, he shot 64 on the final day at Memphis and made up a seven-stroke deficit to win again.
On Sunday, he came from behind with the kind of momentum reserved for winners. He birdied the par-5 eighth by holing a chip from behind the humps that guard the left side of the green. He made the turn in 3-under, then made that eagle at No. 13, dropping a 4-wood 1 yard over the edge of Rae's Creek and then 10 feet from the cup. When he made the putt to take the lead at 6-under, the roar that erupted forced Vijay Singh, standing over a birdie putt at No. 11, to back off.
He refused to give in to any disappointment he might have felt about the playoff. For a guy who has come as far as he has, no way was finishing second in The Masters a disappointment. "Masters Sunday, having a chance to win, tied for the lead," Mattiace said. "Whatever your dream is, why not, right? Why not?"
In a Masters whose history will always reserve a paragraph for Martha Burk and the controversy over Augusta National's men-only membership, it should be noted that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution polled the 30 players in the Tour Championship last November as to their opinion on the issue. Nineteen had no comment. Ten said that the club should admit women. One said it shouldn't -- Len Mattiace.
Burk may have won one more battle than we thought.
|Grittiness made all the difference for Mike Weir, who didn't make a single bogey until the first playoff hole -- when victory was already in hand.|
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.