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Weir doesn't let Nissan slip away

Posted: Monday, February 23, 2004

LOS ANGELES Mike Weir wanted to prove he could win with the lead.

By the time he won the Nissan Open on Sunday, it felt like another one of his great comebacks.

A seven-shot lead disappeared in a span of 12 holes. Shigeki Maruyama was charging hard, knocking down the pin with a 3-iron at No. 15 and catching Weir on the next hole with a 6-iron that never left the flag.

Then the came rain, hard and steady, making the decisive, 475-yard 18th hole at Riviera play even longer.

''You have to dig deep,'' Weir said. ''I was able to do that.''

Right when it seemed as through he was going to let a big one get away, the gutsy Canadian answered with the best chip of an immaculate week with the wedge. From the side of a grassy hill, Weir nearly holed the 45-foot chip and tapped in for par and a one-stroke victory.

The Masters champion, who had won his previous six PGA Tour events from behind and was 0-for-5 with a 54-hole lead, closed with an even-par 71 and became the first back-to-back winner at Riviera since Corey Pavin in 1994-95.

He finished at 17-under 267 and earned $864,000.

''If you'd have told me at the beginning of the week I'd be tied on the 17th hole, I'd be happy with that,'' Weir said. ''It wasn't maybe what I was expecting at the beginning of the day, but that's the reality now. I just needed to bear down a little bit.''

Maruyama, who trailed by seven when Weir chipped in for birdie on No. 3, injected some excitement with one great shot after another that made Weir wipe his brow even before it started raining.

Maruyama's chances ended when he missed the 18th fairway, couldn't reach the green and hit a 50-yard chip 12 feet past the hole. His par putt to force a playoff slid by on the right.

''The last hole I was trying to hit the ball farther because it started raining,'' Maruyama said. ''That was the biggest mistake of my whole week. I'm still not good at playing in the rain. I start practicing in the shower tonight.''

It was his only bogey in a final-round 67.

Stuart Appleby got within three shots of the lead on the back nine, but finished with six straight par for 66 and was three shots back.

John Daly, coming off his first PGA Tour victory in nine years, made six birdies on his final 12 holes for a 67 and finished fourth. He only had two top 10s all of last year, and this will allow him to climb even higher in the world ranking as he tries to get into the Masters.

Tiger Woods is now 0-for-6 as a professional at Riviera, the only PGA Tour course he has played so often without winning. For the second straight year, he saved his best round for when it didn't matter a career-best 64 at Riviera that moved him up 37 spots into a tie for seventh.

''You have to play good for all four days, and I haven't done that,'' Woods said.

Weir started the round with a five-shot lead, although it sure didn't look that way. He was grinding from the first hole, playing like he was tied for the lead coming down the 18th.

No one guessed it would ever come down to that.

Weir chipped to 6 feet and holed the birdie putt on the opening hole, extending his lead when Maruyama three-putted for par from across the green.

His approach landed at the feet of the gallery behind the green on No. 3, and Weir faced a tough chip up the slope and down toward the hole. The ball hit hard through the kikuya fringe, spun slightly to take off the speed and rolled in for an unlikely birdie.

The lead was up to seven, and Weir was looking tough to beat.

There was another birdie on the eighth, the putt so true that Weir raised his left arm and started walking when the ball was still a foot from going in; and on the ninth, he escaped trouble from a fairway bunker with a flop shot to 3 feet to save par.

But all of that changed on the 10th.

A year ago, Charles Howell III had a three-shot lead at the turn when he bogeyed No. 10, and he wound up losing to Weir in a playoff.

This time, it was Weir who lost the momentum.

He had 95 yards to the hole, but his sand wedge shot caught the top of the bunker and dropped into the wet sand. He blasted out to the fringe beyond the hole and made bogey, and when Maruyama holed a 10-foot birdie putt, the lead was suddenly down to three and felt even smaller.

Weir dropped another shot on the 13th when he gunned his putt from the fringe 8 feet by and missed it coming back.

Maruyama took over from there, applying more pressure with his 3-iron from 211 yards on No. 15 that stopped 20 inches from the cup. On the next hole, his 6-iron stopped 10 feet behind the hole for a share of the lead.

Weir, who made up a seven-shot deficit last year at Riviera, made sure he didn't go to another playoff. Standing on the side of the hill above the 18th green, he picked a dark patch of grass 4 feet from the fringe, and was stunned when the ball rippled over the cup.

It was a fitting conclusion. Weir's short game was the reason he built a seven-shot lead. He just never knew he would need it that late in the game.



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