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Weir beats Howell in playoff for second win of year

2/24/2003

LOS ANGELES -- Mike Weir posted a 5-under 66 and headed to
the practice range as a mere formality, never expecting his
seven-stroke comeback against Charles Howell III to amount to
anything more than a consolation prize.

Weir, of all people, should have known better.

The little lefty is quickly gaining a reputation as the comeback
Canadian.

Weir won the Nissan Open on Sunday by holing an 8-foot birdie
putt on the second playoff hole, the second time this month the
32-year-old has cut into a large deficit in the final round to win.

''Being seven shots back, especially with Nick (Price) and
Charles up there, I was definitely surprised,'' Weir said. ''I
wanted to play solid and shoot a good number. Winning wasn't on my
mind.''

Weir made up a four-shot deficit in the final round to win the
Bob Hope Classic four weeks ago. In fact, he has trailed going into
the last round in all five of his PGA Tour victories.

''Everything just fell my way,'' said Weir, who earned $810,000
and moved to the top of the PGA Tour money list at just over $2
million.

Howell was just as stunned.

He led by three strokes over Price at the start of an overcast
day, maintained that cushion going into the back nine and then
watched it slowly slip away.

''If I had played like I should have, this never would have gone
to a playoff,'' said Howell, who played the final seven holes in 2
over and closed with a 73.

''Never at any point today did I think I wasn't going to win the
tournament.''

It looked like he had no chance on the best little par 4 in
golf, the 311-yard 10th that invites players to drive the green and
makes them pay for it if they miss to the right.

Howell hit driver and went to the right.

Weir played it safe with a 5-wood, then hit a sand wedge over
the corner of a bunker to the skinny green, stopping 8 feet away.

Howell hit the best shot of the tournament. His 35-yard bunker
shot landed just on the fringe and trickled 6 feet away. But after
Weir made his putt, Howell's bid to extend the playoff ended when
his putt stayed left of the hole.

He didn't made a putt longer than 5 feet all afternoon.

Weir also played it safe at the Bob Hope Classic, laying up
short of the water on the par-5 closing hole and winning when Jay
Haas went for the green and took a swim.

Weir tried to drive the 10th green the first three rounds and
was a combined 1 over par, and lucky to be that. He laid up in
regulation and in the playoff, and both times made birdie.

''I finally figured it out,'' Weir said.

Both players finished at 9-under 275, leading to the first
playoff on tour this year.

Price had a share of the lead until bogeys on the 15th and 16th.
He finished two strokes behind after a 72, tied with Fred Funk
(68).

Tiger Woods had the best round of the day, a 6-under 65 that
lifted him into a tie for fifth at 278. It was the eighth
consecutive top-10 finish for Woods, dating to the British Open at
Muirfield (tie for 28th).

Woods now has played the Nissan Open six times without winning,
the most at any other PGA Tour event. He didn't lose his sense of
humor.

''It definitely was a goal to get in the top 10 so I can get
Ryder Cup points,'' he said.

As much as Howell squandered one chance after another, Weir made
tough par putts on the 12th and 13th, and didn't make a bogey over
his final 13 holes.

It was the first time Howell took a 54-hole lead into the final
round, and he kept his composure while holding off an early charge
from Price.

Still, there were a few noticeable chinks.

''He was obviously unsettled,'' Price said. ''You could see
it.''

Howell was in command with a three-stroke lead at the turn, and
there was not much to suggest the rest of the day would be anything
but a walk beneath the mansions atop Riviera.

Then came a bogey on No. 10, the short-but-tough par 4. Another
followed on No. 12 when Howell hit into a bunker and barely got it
out, having to chip close to make bogey.

When he three-putted from 50 feet on the par-3 14th, he was back
to 9 under and no longer had the lead to him for the first time all
weekend.

Ahead of them was Weir, who nearly holed from off the green at
No. 17, tapping in for a birdie to get to 9 under. Weir left his
approach about 30 feet right of the cup on No. 18, and the two-putt
par figured to end his run.

''I thought I needed a birdie there because Charles still had
the par 5 left,'' Weir said.

He headed to the range, smiling and chatting, expecting to hear
a roar that signaled a birdie by Howell on the par-5 17th. It never
came.

From the middle of the fairway, Howell's 3-wood flared into the
right rough, and a delicate pitch didn't get past the fringe. He
had to make a 4-foot putt just to get par.

Notes
Vijay Singh, who injured his ribs last week, withdrew from
the Match Play Championship. He will be replaced in the field by
Carl Pettersson of Sweden, who gets to play Tiger Woods in the
first round. Pettersson was the runner-up to Woods last week at the
Buick Invitational. ... After narrowly making the cut, Darren
Clarke had 68-68 on the week to finish 10th. ... PGA champion Rich
Beem, five out of the lead to start the final round, bogeyed four
of his first five holes and rallied for a 74.