Weir beats Howell in playoff for second win of year

Updated: February 24, 2003, 6:29 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

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.

Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III had a three-stroke lead with nine holes to play but couldn't hold on.

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.

The confident Canadian
Mike WeirIs 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 65 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-3 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.

For more stats and analysis, check out ESPN.com's Weekend Wrapup.

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.

ALSO SEE