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Confident Canadian on some kind of roll

2/24/2003

Is anyone hitting the ball better than Mike Weir?

Outside of Ernie Els, nobody has been as consistent as Weir, who along with his two 2003 victories has a tie for third at Pebble and a tie for ninth at the Phoenix Open. He has only three rounds in the 70s all year.

The 32-year-old Canadian lefty was at his very best Sunday on a Riviera course that yielded only 11 scores below 70 in the final round, and none from the final three groups. Weir's 66 was tied for the second-best score of the day.

Including the two-hole playoff, Weir -- who started the day seven strokes off the lead -- hit 14 of 16 fairways and 16 of 20 greens in regulation. Not bad for a guy who finished 78th on the money list in 2002.

So what's the difference between now and then? Confidence.

Weir played the second playoff hole (the 311-yard par-4 10th) with Tiger-esque self-assurance. Knowing Charles Howell III would try to drive the green, Weir stuck with his game-plan and laid up short with a 5-wood. And when Howell ended up in a bunker 35 yards in front of the pin, the safe play for Weir would have been to land his approach shot 20 feet or so away from the hole -- which was located in the back-right corner of the green -- in order to avoid the bunker that fronted the putting surface.

But Weir instead cut the corner of the bunker and fired at the flag, landing his second shot 8 feet away from the hole. The decision would prove critical when Howell made a remarkable bunker shot to within 6 feet.

Weir coolly drained his 8-footer, Howell missed his try, and the rest is history.

Now, Weir has two victories, two other top-10s and is sitting pretty atop the money list ahead of guys named Woods, Mickelson, Singh and, yes, even Els.

What a difference a year makes.


The number of strokes Mike Weir has made up in the final rounds of his victories at the Bob Hope (four) and Nissan (seven).



Around the tours

Nissan Open
Site:
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Course (par 71):
Riviera Country Club (7,174 yards)
Top finishers:
1. Mike Weir (-9)
2. Charles Howell III
T3. Fred Funk
T3. Nick Price
T5. Tiger Woods
T5. K.J. Choi

Verizon Classic
Site:
Lutz, Fla.
Course:
TPC of Tampa Bay (6,783 yards)

Top finishers:
1. Bruce Fleisher (-8)
2. Hale Irwin
3. Mike Hill
T5. Mark McCumber
T5. Jim Thorpe
T5. Mike McCullough

Malaysian Open
Site:
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Course (par 71):
The Mines Resort & GC (6,785 yards)

Top finishers:
1. Arjun Atwal
T2. Retief Goosen
T2. Brad Kennedy
4. Dean Robertson
5. Thammanoon Srirot

No event
Next event:
Welch's/Fry's Championship (March 13-16)

No event
Next event:
Jacob's Creek Open Championship
(Feb. 27-March 2)

Elsewhere this week...
ANZ Ladies Masters
Winner: Laura Davies

Five observations
1. As good as Weir played down the stretch Sunday, he wouldn't have had a chance had Howell played smarter golf on the back nine.

With a three-stroke lead halfway through his round, Howell played his final nine holes at 2-over and left the door open for Weir. Here's where he made the mistakes:

  • Par-4, 311-yard 10th: Trying to drive the green for the fourth straight round, Howell's tee shot went to the far left, almost pin-high but 48 yards away and behind a couple trees. He had to try to run his second shot low around and under a tree, but it skidded off the green and into the left-side bunker. His bunker shot went about 8 feet past the hole, and he two-putted from there for bogey.

  • Par-4, 459-yard 12th: Sitting 180 yards out after a solid tee shot, Howell left his second shot in the one place he couldn't afford to be: the right-side bunker. He had trouble from there, landing his third shot in the rough in front of the green, 26 feet away from the hole. He'd two-putt there for bogey.

  • Par-3, 176-yard 14th: He landed his tee shot safely on the green, but three-putted from 64 feet for his third bogey on the back nine. By the time he picked his ball up out of the hole, he had dropped in a three-way tie for the lead with Nick Price and Weir.

    More stats from Howell's 2-over 73 on Sunday:

  • Howell hit only 10 of 18 greens in regulation, his lowest number of the week.

  • He had 29 putts Sunday, again his worst number of the week.

  • He made four bogeys in the final round, one more than he made in his first 54 holes.

    2. After Saturday's 2-over 73 that left him 11 strokes off the lead, Tiger Woods rebounded nicely in the final round.

    Playing aggressively and firing at Riviera's will-tucked pins, Woods shot a 6-under 65, the best round of the day and tied for the lowest round of the week.

    How did he do it? He made seven birdies, no bogeys and made only 24 putts. Not bad considering he made 34, 26 and 30 strokes with his putter in his first three rounds, respectively.

    Woods began his season last week $1.8 million behind on the money list. After two events he's cut that deficit in half.

    3. Riviera played extremely tough this week, particularly Sunday.

    The 9-under winning score was the second-highest since 1996, and tied for the third-highest since 1984. Why so high? Small greens, tucked pins and a little wind combined to frustrate the field. Some pins were as close as three steps from the edge of the green Sunday.

    4. David Duval and Rich Beem each cashed their first paychecks of the season this week.

    Duval -- who played his first two rounds paired with Woods -- started with a 69-70 to reach the weekend in a tie for fifth place, but finished 73-75 to drop into a tie for 42nd. Still, it's a good first step for Duval, who missed his first two cuts of the year at the Bob Hope and at Pebble.

    Beem, meanwhile, missed three cuts and finished dead last at the season-opening Mercedes before finishing in a tie for 10th this week at the Nissan. The highlight of his week was a second-round 65, tied for the best one-day score of the tournament.

    5. Bruce Fleisher won his third career Champions Tour event Sunday thanks to a two-stroke swing on the 53rd hole of the Verizon Classic.

    Hale Irwin led Fleisher by one shot heading into the 17th hole Sunday, but three-putted the green for a bogey. Fleisher, meanwhile, birdied the hole to leapfrog Irwin and win by a stroke.

    What it means for ...

    K.J. Choi: The Korean found himself in the final group in the final round for the second time this year (the first was at the Mercedes with Els), and he was never really a factor either time. He ended up in a tie with Woods for fifth place, and led the field by hitting 69.4 percent of greens in regulation.

    Lorena Ochoa: The young phenom shot a 68 in the final round of the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia on Sunday, finishing fourth at 11-under for the tournament. Ochoa will be a card-carrying member of the LPGA Tour in 2003. Many of the best women's players are Down Under tuning up for the upcoming season.

    Fred Couples: The 43-year-old showed he can still hang around with the kids this week, finishing in a tie for seventh at the Nissan, an event he's won twice previously.

    Fred Funk: Funk started and finished with a bang this week. He came streaking out of the blocks with an opening-round 65 to take a three-stroke lead before fading to a 74 on Friday. A 70 on Saturday lifted him back into the top 10, and a finishing 68 vaulted him into a tie for third.

    Up next ...
    WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
    The NCAA Tournament of golf headlines this week's action. Sixty-four of the top 66 players will meet at La Costa in Carlsbad, Calif. for the head-to-head event, which features Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as the top two seeds. The two, however, will not face each other unless they both reach the finals.

    Rain is expected Monday and Tuesday, which could make things very interesting -- and sloppy -- for Wednesday's first-round matches. Check out the tentative bracket.

    PGA Tour: Chrysler Classic of Tucson
    With the world's best at the Match Play, the Classic's field is one of the weakest of the year, but it will give youngsters like Aaron Baddeley a much better chance to pick up career victory No. 1. Check out the full field.

    Nationwide Tour: Jacob's Creek Open Championship
    The Nationwide Tour kicks off its 2003 season Down Under.

    Women's Australian Open
    Some of the LPGA Tour's best are tuning up for the 2003 season in Australia. Karrie Webb will defend her title, and Laura Davies -- who outdueled Webb to win the ANZ Ladies Masters on Sunday -- is in the field as well, as are Beth Bauer and Natalie Gulbis.

    David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com.