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Healthy Weir ready to create more Augusta memories

2003 champion on the upswing after lingering injury

Sunday, April 06, 2008

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Mike Weir's health and golf game are back in good shape, in that order.

Weir (Staff)

The 2003 Masters Tournament champion has finally shaken the effects of a lingering neck and back injury.

The injury, which occurred when a fan slapped Weir on the back in the 2004 Canadian Open, was so painful that at one point he had trouble tying his shoes.

The victories stopped coming and his world ranking, which topped out at No. 5 after his win at Augusta National Golf Club, went into the high 40s. He's now 40th.

Weir tried to play through the injury, which he regrets. Now, through chiropractic help and massage therapy, Weir reports that he's "felt good all year."

And it started showing at the end of 2007.

First, Weir was the top player on the International team that lost to the United States in the Presidents Cup, going 3-1-1. Playing in his native Canada, Weir closed out the final day with a 1-up singles victory over Tiger Woods.

Weir ranks the win over Woods "right there" with his Masters victory.

"Obviously winning the Masters was such a thrill, but to play Tiger, you know, obviously he's the best there is and I had to play my absolute best to beat him," Weir said.

Three weeks later, Weir ended a 31/2-year victory drought by winning the Fry's Electronics Open in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"It had been tough not winning," said Weir, who won for the eighth time, tying George Knudson for the most victories by a Canadian. "You know, that's what we're all out here to do, and it had been quite a long time.

"I would say I was very frustrated before 2007," he said. "I was very frustrated healthwise. I wasn't able to practice. I've always been a player who has needed to practice a lot and keep on top of my game. You know, my neck and back were killing me and I wasn't able to practice very much.

"And with that, I was starting to get into some bad habits with my golf swing, and so that was very frustrating."

He returns to the Masters with a legitimate chance of winning.

"My game feels better than it has in the last couple of years. It's a matter of executing. I know how to play that golf course," he said.

Weir finished in the top 20 from 2005-07 despite his health issues. He even tied for fifth in 2005.

For Weir to win a second green jacket, he needs another spectacular putting week. Zach Johnson, a fellow medium-length hitter, followed Weir's blueprint to victory in 2007, but with better iron play.

"My putting today is not as good (as it was in 2003)," said Weir, who tied for 10th in putting at Augusta National last year while finishing tied for 20th place.

"I putted pretty darn good (in 2003)," he said. "If you look down through history, anybody who wins Augusta putts good. You've got to putt good there."

Weir carries something that few others in the Tiger Woods era have: memories of winning at Augusta National.

"Every year is different, but in crucial situations you have a lot of good memories to draw on if you need them," Weir said. "Really, you're just trying to play the golf course that it is right there now and see where your game is."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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