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S.L. Price
April 21, 2003
Undaunted by the tumult or the pressure of sudden death, Mike Weir showed his steel in winning the Masters
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April 21, 2003

Weir And Wonderful

Undaunted by the tumult or the pressure of sudden death, Mike Weir showed his steel in winning the Masters

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They came walking down the hill from the 10th tee on Sunday evening, just the two of them left standing. It was the scene everyone at Augusta National had been waiting for, through all the days of rain and rhetoric, through all the cheap talk about chauvinism and the rights of private clubs and the point of a bayonet. Here came the two men. One of their lives would soon be changed forever, and the change would arrive the way every golfer dreams: with shadows dappling the green and thousands lining the fairway, in a sudden-death playoff for the Masters championship.

Yet it wasn't exactly what everyone had been waiting for, not by the longest of shots, because neither of the two men was named Tiger or Phil, and the events that followed evoked no comparison with Jack and Arnie in the dusk. No, here were Mike Weir and Len Mattiace, a Canadian lefty and a 35-year-old journeyman, battling at the 2003 Masters and still unaware that their grueling four-round march had one more wicked turn ahead. They had hit identical gorgeous drives, but the unraveling began with their approach shots. Mattiace hooked a six-iron far left. Weir lofted a six-iron to the front of the green, 45 feet short. When Mattiace found his ball, he also found a knobby pine standing between him and history.

You never heard so many people so quiet. Mattiace had missed the cut in his only other Masters, back in 1988, when he was a "college stud," as he now says, sure of his future greatness, and he hadn't once, in the intervening 15 years, had a day nearly as good as this one. But what came next wasn't pretty: He chopped the ball out of the rough, past the tree and the pin and 30 more feet of green. After Weir's birdie putt went six feet beyond the hole, Mattiace wrenched his par putt wide and 18 feet past the hole to the fringe, and someone in the crowd muttered, "Three worst words in golf: still your shot."

Mattiace missed again. Weir slid his next attempt seven inches wide, which left him with a tap-in for a bogey—and the victory. No one had ever won a Masters playoff with a bogey, but there it was, Weir's first of the day. He tapped in and lifted his hands halfheartedly as the crowd thundered. He walked off the green, suddenly the champion, suddenly, at 32, a player who matters, and as he dropped into the front seat of a golf cart, all of Weir's composure fell away. He looked up and said, "Unbelievable," and then lowered his face into his hands. A sob escaped, and he clenched his teeth to stop it from happening again. His father, Rich, wrapped his arms around his son from the backseat. "That's all right, Mike," his father said. "Let it all out. It's O.K."

God knows, by then Weir was hardly the only man in need of comfort. Everyone figured this year's Masters would be a tournament like no other, but nobody envisioned the mesmerizing circus that left a course in tatters, an institution in tumult and the Masters' newest and most reserved champion in uncontrollable tears. No major ever had a more prohibitive favorite than Tiger Woods at Augusta this year; not only was he gunning for his third straight green jacket, but the course's length (7,290 yards) and condition (soft from days of rain) had seemingly narrowed the field to the world's No. 1 player and a shaky handful of others. No one predicted that Weir, who finished 39th (out of 49) in driving distance for the tournament, would nonetheless wield the driver that clubbed the Masters into submission. No one dreamed that Weir, who crumbled in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship, would recover after Mattiace snatched the lead with Sunday's out-of-nowhere 65; no one could foresee that Weir, needing a par on 18 that day to match Mattiace's seven-under 281, would calmly sink a harrowing seven-footer, a career-defining putt, to force the playoff.

It was a moment of exquisite pressure. Having reached the green in two, lying 45 feet away and needing two putts to tie Mattiace, Weir followed the line laid out for him by the putt of his playing partner, Jeff Maggert. Once Maggert putted out and walked off the green, Weir, alone in a sea of people and cameras and the psychic weight of millions, leaned over his ball. He struck it short, took the longest walk of his career, then leaned over it again. The crowd began screaming the moment the ball moved. When it dropped, Weir looked like he hadn't slept in a week.

"It was just a gut-wrenching day, [with] a lot of comeback putts that I needed to make and was able to make," Weir said afterward. "To do that coming down the stretch, knowing what a great score Len's had today, that's what I'm really proud of. I wouldn't wish that last putt on 18 on anybody."

And in the end, Weir took it upon himself, just as he has all season. While everyone else was watching Woods, he quietly and oh-so-Canadianly won the Nissan Open and the Bob Hope, and by taking the year's first major in hand (and the top spot on the Tour's money list, with $3,286,625 in earnings), he politely announced himself as golf's new man of the moment. While everyone else was fidgeting over the rain, the course and other things, the native of Sarnia, Ont., and resident of Draper, Utah, shot a second-round 68 to take the lead early last Saturday, contained himself after a nerve-racking three-over 75 in that afternoon's third round and then stoically played the Masters' first bogey-free final round by a champion since Doug Ford's in 1957. When Weir tapped in to finish the playoff, the first man from north of the border to win a major, it was, quite arguably, Canada's biggest score since Weir's close friend Wayne Gretzky met Janet Jones.

"Growing up," Weir said of his days spent pounding frosty balls into Lake Huron, "I started my golf season on the putting green of Huron Park, sinking a putt to win the Masters."

That it all actually came to pass, with Weir—not Phil Mickelson—becoming the first lefthander to win a major in 40 years, seems only fitting. In the long run Woods's collapse on Sunday or the public scuffle over Augusta's all-male membership might figure more prominently in golf history. But for this one day the Masters belonged to two men unknown to the public at large, and it gave those weary of sexual politics some blessed relief.

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