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Published: Monday, 4/14/2003

A Weir-d Masters

BY GERRY DULAC
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Canadian Mike Weir, right, celebrates with his father, Rich, after winning the Masters over Len Mattiace in a one-hole playoff. Canadian Mike Weir, right, celebrates with his father, Rich, after winning the Masters over Len Mattiace in a one-hole playoff.
DAVE MARTIN / AP Enlarge

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tiger Woods spent the early portions of the final round trying to become the first left-hander to win the Masters. Then Mike Weir, a Canadian mountain lion, went out and did it, winning the green jacket with the guts, guile and toughness of some of his hockey-playing friends.

Weir never flinched in the yawning twilight at the Augusta National Golf Club, not when Len Mattiace passed him on the back nine with a Tiger-like charge, not when he needed a five-foot par putt on the final hole to force a sudden-death playoff.

Then Weir did what any good hockey player would do: He went into the corner - Amen Corner - and came out with the 67th Masters championship.

“A gut-wrenching day,” Weir said when it was all over.

It ended an unusual Masters week that had rain postpone the first round, Martha Burk's protest of Augusta National's membership policy and the first Masters playoff since 1990.

Weir was as flawless as the weather in yesterday's final round, shooting a bogey-free 68 to finish at 7-under 281, the highest winning score since 1988. What's more, he did everything necessary to win his first major championship.

When he needed to catch Mattiace, who shot 32 on the back en route to a 7-under 65, he made a pair of lay-up birdies at the two par-5s - Nos. 13 and 15. When he needed a par to force the first playoff since 1990, he two-putted from 25 feet at the final hole, calmly draining a five-footer to save par.

And when Weir needed to display his steely resolve one more time, he did, even if it was with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet at No. 10, the first playoff hole.

“I wouldn't wish that last putt on 18 on anybody,” Weir said. “It's as nerve-racking as it gets.”

But Weir did that all day, outlasting Mattiace to join Bob Charles as the only left-hander to win a major championship (Charles won the 1963 British Open).

He also held off that other lefty - Phil Mickelson, who shot a final-round 68 to finish third for the third year in a row at Augusta National. Mickelson finished at 5-under 283, two shots back. Another shot back was Jim Furyk, whose final-round 68 included an eagle at No. 15.

“I couldn't ask to play much better,” Weir said. “To go bogey-free at Augusta National the last day, you can't ask for anything more.”

The victory, Weir's third this season, was worth $1.08 million. It helped erase some of the disappointment of the 1999 PGA Championship, when he was paired with Woods in the final group and shot 81.

“I made all my putts inside eight feet today,” Weir said. “That week, at the PGA, I don't think I made one of them.”

Jeff Maggert, who carried a two-shot lead into the final round, shot 75 and finished fifth at 2-under 286. But that was only after taking 15 shots on two holes - a triple-bogey 7 at No. 3 and a quintuple-bogey 8 at the par-3 12th, when he put two balls in Rae's Creek.

Woods was trying to become the first player to win three green jackets in a row, but he spent most of the afternoon at the National playing from spots where he is unaccustomed to playing. After a two-putt birdie at the par-5 second hole lifted him just three shots from the lead, Woods played the next six holes in 5-over, highlighted by a double-bogey 6 at the 350-yard third hole when his tee shot landed next to an azalea bush in the Georgia pines. He ended up with 75 and finished at 2-over 290.

“It's not easy because no one's ever done it,” Woods said. “You can't win everything. That's our sport.”

Woods appeared to play himself out of contention on the third hole, the 350-yard par-4, when, with the tees moved forward, he tried to drive the green. But Woods pushed his tee shot into the pines and his ball came to rest next to a pink azalea, forcing him to turn around and punch out left-handed. Woods then skipped his next shot over the shallow green, pitched back to the fringe and two-putted for double-bogey.

A hole later, he three-putted from 25 feet for bogey, and the boys in the clubhouse put his green jacket back in the closet.

“I wanted to hit iron, but Stevie [Williams, his caddie] thought I should hit it down there in front and have an easier shot,” Woods said. “I went with it, but ultimately it is the player's call. I made the wrong decision there.”

Weir got passed on the back nine by Mattiace, making his first appearance at Augusta National in 15 years and only his second overall. But Weir was charging through the Georgia pines in Tiger-like fashion, gaining momentum when he chipped in from 40 yards for birdie at the par-5 eighth.

For Mattiace, the biggest moment came at No. 13, the 510-yard par-5 and the last hole in Amen Corner. He made a 15-foot eagle putt to take a one-shot lead, then momentarily took a three-shot lead with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 15 and 16.

But the feisty Weir followed immediately with a 15-foot birdie at 13. When Mattiace bogeyed the final hole, pushing his tee shot into the pines and playing out to the fairway, Weir came right back with a four-foot birdie at the 500-yard 15th to tie for the lead.

If it weren't for a bogey at the final hole, Mattiace would have tied Gary Player's record for best final-round score by a Masters champion, set in 1978. Instead, his 7-under 65, which included a back-nine 32, landed him in a playoff with Weir.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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