Weir first Canadian Masters winner

Masterful Maple Leaf

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2003

AUGUSTA, Ga. A Maple Leaf grows among the towering pines of Augusta National.

Mike Weir became the first Canadian to win the Masters, making two clutch pars to force a playoff with Len Mattiace, and winning on the first extra hole with a simple tap-in for bogey.

The green jacket that Tiger Woods had hoped to slip on for a record third straight year is going north of the border.

Weir, who only five years ago had to toil through PGA Tour qualifying school, closed with a bogey-free 68 on a dramatic Sunday at Augusta National, then let Mattiace make all the mistakes in the first Masters playoff in 13 years.

Weir had to sweat over a 5-foot par putt on the 17th and a 6-footer on the 18th, as Mattiace waited on the practice green among chairs that already were set up for the fabled green jacket ceremony.

Minutes later, Weir leaned over to tap in for his only bogey of the day, then raised his arms and embraced his longtime friend and caddie, Brennan Little.

What a breakthrough not only was he the first Canadian to win a major championship, he became the first left-hander to win a major since Bob Charles in the 1963 British Open.

Mattiace watched a brilliant day at Augusta National crumble quickly.

He chipped in for birdie, holed a 60-foot putt on No. 10, and charged through the back nine on a mission to build a two-stroke lead. But Mattiace bogeyed the 18th for a 65, and he never had a chance in the playoff.

From the middle of the 10th fairway, he hooked his approach wildly to the left and then chipped some 30 feet by the hole. His par putt nearly went off the green, and Mattiace wound up with a double bogey.

Both finished at 7-under 281, the highest winning score at the Masters since 1989.

Weir won for the third time this year, and all six of his PGA Tour victories have been comebacks none more special than this.

Until Sunday, the most nervous he has ever felt was watching Canada win the gold medal in hockey at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

This was definitely nerve-racking,'' Weir said. I tried to gather myself on each putt. Every putt on this golf course is tough.''

All of them mattered until the end, when Mattiace chopped up the 10th hole and was struggling to hold back tears when he realized how close he had come.

All of them mattered in a nervous pursuit of the green jacket.

Woods, who stumbled to a 75, slipped the coveted prize over his shoulders.

Thanks, Tig,'' Weir told him. It feels good.''

Woods was only four strokes behind to start the final round, and history seemed to be there for the taking.

He gave it all away with one bad decision a driver on the shortest par 4 at Augusta National that went into an azalea bush, caused him to hit his next shot left-handed and led to a double bogey that derailed his chances.

The other lefty Phil Mickelson had a 4-under 68 for his best closing round at the Masters, but it still left him empty after 43 tries in a major championship.

Mickelson finished third at 5-under 283.

The Masters was supposed to be won by the big hitters, but Weir proved again that the shortest clubs in the bag his putter and wedge can make up for a lot.

Two strokes behind with six to go, Weir holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 13th, then laid up and trusted his wedge on No. 15, sticking that to 5 feet to tie for the lead.

Unbelievable,'' Weir said. It's something I've dreamt of, something I worked very hard at. I'm having a hard time putting it into words because words won't do it justice.''

So ended an unforgettable week at Augusta National.

Four days of rain.

The opening round washed out for the first time in 64 years.

A tepid protest Saturday against the all-male membership at Augusta National.

And the first playoff since Nick Faldo beat Raymond Floyd in 1990.

Not bad, eh?

Weir now takes his place among so many others who have won the green jacket, including six-time winner Jack Nicklaus.

As a teenager, Weir wrote a letter to the Golden Bear asking if he should learn to play right-handed. Nicklaus told him not to change a thing.

If the greatest player of all time tells you to stick to it, then I was going to do it,'' Weir once said.

Weir played a practice round with Charles at the 2001 British Open.

It's nice to win one for the lefties,'' he said.

The final round lived up to its billing, but thousands of fans who streamed through the gates at 8 a.m. almost seven hours before the leaders teed off could never have guessed what was in store.

There was an amazing array of shots that sent cheers resounding across Augusta National as one player after another worked his way into contention.

Mickelson, after hitting into a creek on No. 2, holed a 90-foot birdie putt and looked to the sky, wondering if this might finally be his year to win a major.

Mattiace pitched over the large mounds on No. 8 and into the hole for a birdie, and rolled in a 60-foot birdie putt on No. 10 from almost the same spot as Ben Crenshaw when he won his first green jacket in 1984.

Rich Beem, the PGA champion trying to prove that Hazeltine was no fluke, holed out from the fairway for eagle on No. 5.

But every charge came with a collapse none greater than Jeff Maggert.

He started with a two-stroke lead over Weir, but it all ended in shocking fashion.

From the fairway bunker on No. 3, Maggert's approach slammed into the lip and caromed off his chest, a two-stroke penalty. He slapped his knee in disgust, his ball still in the sand and his hopes of a green jacket fading fast.

Maggert was lucky to escape with triple bogey, and managed to scratch his way back into the hunt until he reached No. 12.

His tee shot went into the back bunker. His sand shot skidded through the green and into the water. He dropped on the other side of Rae's Creek and dumped another in the water, finally walking off with an 8.

Equally shocking was Woods, whose bid for a third straight green jacket fell apart at the seams.

Woods said caddie Steve Williams talked him into hitting a driver on the 350-yard third hole because it was easier to get close to the pin from just short of the green.

Instead, he went well right into the Georgia pines and next to an azalea bush. Woods inverted the back of his wedge to chip out left-handed, then pitched over the green and made double bogey.

He made only two birdies, and his 75 matched his highest closing round at a major.

No one else got closer than two strokes the rest of the way, and it became a two-man race over the final six holes.

Mattiace, playing five groups ahead of Weir, hit into the trees on the 18th, chipped out and sent his approach just over the green. He had to made a delicate 6-footer for bogey, and still thought it might be enough to win.

Weir hit the 18th green with a 4-iron, but left his long birdie putt 6 feet short.

It's one of the most difficult putts you have in golf a putt to tie a major championship,'' Weir said. It was probably the biggest shot of my life.''



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