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The Long Road Back
Cameron Morfit
April 22, 2013
TEN YEARS AFTER A TENSE SUDDEN-DEATH PLAYOFF PUT THEM AT THE CENTER OF GOLF'S GRANDEST DRAMA, MIKE WEIR AND LEN MATTIACE ARE GRINDING TO RETURN TO THE STAGE
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April 22, 2013

The Long Road Back

TEN YEARS AFTER A TENSE SUDDEN-DEATH PLAYOFF PUT THEM AT THE CENTER OF GOLF'S GRANDEST DRAMA, MIKE WEIR AND LEN MATTIACE ARE GRINDING TO RETURN TO THE STAGE

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As do many Canadians, Graham DeLaet remembers exactly where he was when Weir won the Masters. Playing for Boise State, DeLaet was at a tournament in Pocatello, Idaho, and he caught only Weir's second shot into 18, plus the playoff. "We saw the important part," says DeLaet, 31, who in four seasons on the PGA Tour has made almost $2.6 million. "My dad was there too, and we were both screaming our heads off."

Brennan Little, then Weir's caddie, remembers not just Weir's nerve-jangling, seven-foot par putt on the last hole of regulation but also his lightning-fast eagle try on 13, which he barely touched but watched roll more than 10 feet past the hole. He made the comebacker for a must-have birdie to begin to reel in Mattiace. Says Little, "Mike made so many of those that week."

Weir would fade away slowly. He won the 2004 Nissan Open, but he missed nine cuts in 23 starts in '05. In contention at Pebble Beach in '06, he shot a final-round 78. He turned to stack-and-tilt gurus Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer and broke a 3½-year victory drought at the Fry's Electronics Open in October 2007. But victory number 8 would be his last, or at least his most recent.

As with anyone whose game goes south—Baker-Finch, Duval, David Gossett—Weir is not easily explained. He points to the day he hit a tree root at Hilton Head in 2010, the stinger damaging his right elbow more than he knew. He tried to play through the injury, but he made only two cuts in 2011 before opting for surgery in August. The Tour gave him a major medical extension, but he didn't make enough cash in 2012 to keep his card. Meanwhile he ditched the stack-and-tilt, went back to it, then dropped it again. He is now coached by former Tour pro Grant Waite.

"My game is all about hitting it in the fairway and striking it solid and being precise," Weir says. "If I can't do that, I can't compete."

The consummate grinder, Weir needed six trips to Q school to get his card. He has always come out the other side and then some, with almost $27 million in career earnings. If anyone can play his way out of the abyss, Little says, it's Weir, who has already done it once. He tries to remain upbeat for his wife, Bricia, and their daughters, Lili and Elle, back home in Draper, Utah.

"Having a couple of kids," he says, when asked how he's kept his sanity. "Just getting home, going to their soccer, their basketball games, doing a little skiing, going for a hike or a bike ride—that helps put everything in perspective."

Like Mattiace, Weir has seen positive signs. You could hear DeLaet's excitement when he tweeted after a practice round at the Sony Open in January: "Got tapped out by Weirsy with a filthy eagle on 18 in Hawaii today."

The game is in there, and Weir knows he has all of sporting Canada at his back. Mattiace enjoys similar hometown support. Neither man can overpower a course; each is more finely calibrated than that. So they keep at it and try to take the long view—that once they had the longest long view of all, from the top of the top.

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