Sixth hole pivotal
LOS ANGELES -- Mike Weir would seem to be the last guy at Riviera with something to prove.
He already has his portrait hanging in the clubhouse from winning the Nissan Open last year. He has a green jacket in his closet as the Masters champion. His 5-under 66, a masterful performance in cold, rainy conditions Saturday, gave him a five-shot lead and broke the 54-hole tournament record.
Even so, Weir knows better than to look ahead.
"I'm looking at it as a big challenge," Weir said. "I want to prove to myself that I can handle a five-shot lead."
He has built a reputation as the comeback Canadian, winning all six of his PGA Tour titles from off the lead. The challenge Sunday is to win for the first time out front.
There was that 80 he shot in the final round of the '99 PGA Championship when paired with Tiger Woods. Most recently, Weir shot a 75 in the final round at the 2002 Honda Classic, falling into a tie for 11th.
His final-round scoring average with at least a share of the lead is 73.6.
At least he has some room for error.
Weir separated himself from John Daly and the rest of the pack with one swing -- a 4-iron into 15 feet on the devilish par-3 sixth hole -- then turned it into a runaway Saturday.
He finished at 17-under 196, breaking by one shot the 54-hole record set by Fred Couples in 1992.
Shigeki Maruyama, who started the third round tied with Weir, stayed in range until bogeys on both par 3s on the back nine. A birdie on the final hole gave him an even-par 71, five shots behind.
Jeff Maggert had a 69 his third straight round in the 60s -- and was at 11-under 202.
"I didn't expect to shoot 5 under," Weir said. "But my putter has just been on fire."
The gallery took their hands off umbrellas long enough to clap and cheer Daly, but it couldn't sustain him. Daly missed several short birdie opportunities and shot a 72, leaving him eight shots off the lead.
Daly was in the hunt, along with so many others, until the third round took shape on one hole.
The par-3 sixth is famous for having a bunker in the middle of the green, and with the pin tucked back and to the left, it played as the second-toughest hole Saturday.
Weir made one of only four birdies, and went from a four-way tie for the lead to a two-shot margin.
"That got momentum on my side," Weir said.
It buried just about everyone else.
Daly was only one shot behind when he came up short, his chip rolled back down the ridge and he three-putted for a double bogey.
Briny Baird was tied for the lead at 12 under, but found the middle of the green -- the bunker -- and made bogey.
In the next and final group, Scott McCarron hit so far left that his ball bounced off a concessions tent. He chipped past the hole and nearly into the bunker, having to stand in the sand and grip the club on its shaft to play his next shot. He holed a 7-footer for bogey.
Maruyama went off a tree, chipped over the green and also had to get up-and-down for bogey.
No one got any closer than two shots to Weir the rest of the rainy day.
Weir saved par with a 15-foot putt from the fringe on No. 9, and after a sand wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 10th, he got away with one of his few bad swings.
His second shot on the par-5 11th squirted to the right and hit the trees, dropping into the thick rough of a ditch. He slugged it out to 20 feet and walked off with another birdie, keeping a comfortable margin on Maruyama.
Weir holed a 15-footer on No. 14, and doubled his lead to four when Maruyama failed to get up-and-down from a bunker. The Masters champion added another two-shot swing on the 16th with a 20-foot putt.
"I wanted to seize the opportunity," Weir said.
For Woods, it was another lost cause at Riviera.
This is the only PGA Tour course he has played at least five times without winning, and this year will only add to that streak. Woods again squandered away shots and managed only a 1-over 72,
leaving him 14 shots behind.
He left Riviera without speaking to reporters.
Despite three sub-70 rounds and a score usually good enough to be leading, Maggert was six behind.
"After four days, the golf course usually wins the battle," Maggert said. "I need to play a mistake-free round and make six or seven birdies, and I'll have a chance."
All of that depends on Weir.
The last time he had a lead this big after 54 holes was on the Canadian tour, and he won by eight.
His leads on the PGA Tour have not been that large, and the final rounds have not been memorable.
"I've got something to prove to myself tomorrow," he said.<
The biggest comedy on the sixth hole was courtesy of Jesper Parnevik. He was in the rough, and tried a high flop shot over the bunker to a green that ran away from him. Parnevik swung hard to get under the ball, but caught too much of it. The ball went over the green, over the seventh tee box and 15 feet up the hill into the ivy. "Go find that one," he challenged the gallery. He took a penalty shot for a lost ball, tried the same swing and this time dumped it into the bunker. He walked off with a quadruple-bogey 7 and shot 83. ... The latest addition to Weir's house is a black Labrador puppy for his daughters. He named it Timp, after Mount Timpanogos, elevation 11,750 feet near Provo, Utah.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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