YOU NEVER know what's going to come out of Gary Player's mouth, but sometimes he says something insightful. Following Mike Weir's singles victory over Tiger Woods at last month's Presidents Cup, Player said of Weir, "I think this is going to make a massive difference in his career."
Four weeks later Player has been proved prescient. With a gutsy final-round performance at the Fry's Electronics Open, Weir won for the first time since 2004 and served notice that he is on the verge of returning to the rarefied air he reached in '03, when he took the Masters and two other tournaments en route to finishing fifth on the money list. This season Weir's health has improved and his swing has evolved, but the key to his victory was the self-belief he gained during his star turn at the Presidents Cup, during which he went 3-1-1 playing in his native Canada.
"It got me over the hump maybe as far as confidence, [so that] when it really hits the fan I can get it done," Weir said on Sunday evening. "All of those matches were pressure-packed during the Presidents Cup, and everything about my swing felt great."
While he was winning six times from 1999 to 2003, Weir was noted for his tight, compact action, but his swing wasn't the same after he suffered a neck injury late in '04, an ailment that would linger. With his practice time sharply curtailed, Weir fell to 56th on the money list in '05, and by late last year he had become a disciple of the trendy stack-and-tilt method, which in Weir's mind put less strain on his back and neck. Through the first half of this year he predictably struggled to master the swing changes, but he started coming on strong this summer, achieving results that included a tie for eighth at the British Open.
After Weir dusted Woods at the Presidents Cup you would think that holding off the likes of Mark Hensby at the Fry's wouldn't be a big deal, but the final round was a stress-fest played in 30-mph winds. One behind leader Carl Pettersson at the start, Weir made his move on the back nine, stuffing an eight-iron to five feet on number 14 (BIG PLAY, page Gl4) and then nearly driving the green at the 332-yard, par-4 15th hole. A brilliant eagle chip that stopped within inches of the cup gave Weir his first lead, which he protected with bloodless up and downs on the final two holes. Weir closed out his one-stroke victory with a terrifying six-footer while his pant legs whipped violently in the wind.
Weir's eighth win ties him with George Knudson for the most victories by a Canadian on the PGA Tour, and by the look of things, Knudson's piece of history won't last much longer.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRED VUICH
LONG TIME COMING Weir (with caddie Brennan Little) ended a 3½-year dry spell.