The Week

March 03, 2003

Weir and Weirder
Twin wins in February have made Mike Weir a one-man trend

There was a time in golf when little Mike Weir--5'9", 155
pounds--had no hope of contending, when big burly men drove the
ball fantastic distances and obliterated every scoring record in
their path. That time was January.

The outrageous, outsized golf of the season's first month came to
a screeching halt during the final round of the Bob Hope Classic,
played at PGA West on Feb. 2. When high winds buffeted the
course, the game was no longer easy, and the conditions were
perfect for a precise plodder like Weir, who made up four strokes
on the final day and won by smartly laying up on the last hole.

Things haven't been the same since. Following the Hope, the PGA
Tour visited U.S. Open venues in three consecutive weeks, while
chastened Tour officials began playing hide-and-seek with pin
placements. True, Davis Love III won at Pebble Beach and Tiger
Woods prevailed at Torrey Pines, but the sluggers' scores were
modest.

At last week's Nissan Open venerable Riviera Country Club became
the latest battleground in the war between tradition and
revolution. On Sunday it looked as if the winner would come from
a two-man race between one of the leaders of the new school,
Charles Howell, 23, who attacks courses with a vortex-inducing
swing, and Nick Price, 46, a shrill critic of advanced technology
as well as a fine practitioner of old-school shot making.
Riviera, forever Hogan's Alley, has been lengthened in recent
years in a nod to 21st-century realities, but its true defenses
are its small, firm and devilishly sloping greens and its
doglegs, which send balls skittering into the pesky kikuyu rough.

In the end Howell was unable to overpower Riviera, and even Price
was thwarted by its subtle challenges. Price shot a one-over 72
to finish third, while Howell, leading by three after 54 holes,
struggled to a 73. That opened the door for Weir, who went from
point A to point B flawlessly during a closing 66, forcing a
playoff with Howell.

Weir's game is long on moxie--he chipped in three times last
Saturday to salvage an erratic ball-striking round--and he won
the tournament on the second hole of a playoff, making birdie on
the 315yard par-4 10th hole after smartly laying up. Howell, who
had gone for the green with his driver, missed a seven-foot putt
to extend sudden death, one last yip in an afternoon of shaky
putting.

Weir's second victory of the season brought him two more titles:
the hottest player in the world (this week, anyway) and the best
lefty in the game (so far in '03). In four events this season
Weir has finished no worse than ninth; the $810,000 winner's
check shot Weir to the top of the money list, with more than $2
million, usurping the previously molten Ernie Els, who was
chilling out on vacation in Hawaii. The win also put an
exclamation point on Weir's dramatic return to form.

From 1999 to 2001 he was one of the Tour's most consistent
performers, finishing 23rd, sixth and 11th on the money list,
respectively. But then Weir decided that he had to try to keep up
with the big boys. In a quest for more distance he scrapped his
trademark waggle, a three-quarter-swing trigger mechanism. "I
felt as if it was getting stale," he says. "Without the waggle I
had a lot more power because I was swinging with more rhythm and
more flow. But I was hitting it with less consistency, and my
wedge game was not good at all."

Midway through 2002--a lost year during which he failed to have a
top 10 finish and fell to 78th on the money list--Weir went back
to the waggle. Over the winter he refined his action in the
mirrored basement of his home in Draper, Utah, having accepted
that control, not power, is the strength of his game. On Sunday
at Riviera, Weir scored another one for the little guys, just the
latest unexpected development in what has already been a
schizophrenic year.

TRUST ME

Tiger Woods's new fashion-forward look will never catch on in
hidebound golf circles. That's a shame because we would love to
see the television ad in which the chosen one gravely intones,
"There are courses in this country that I cannot play because of
the collar of my shirt."

O. B.

Tom Whalley, the chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records, hosted
his third annual L.A. Open bash, on Feb. 18, at his five-acre
spread off Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Members of the
Backstreet Boys, Incubus and Green Day mingled with a dozen Tour
players, including Robert Allenby, Robert Gamez, Per-Ulrik
Johansson, Jesper Parnevik, Carl Paulson and Pat Perez. The
Tour's resident party animal, Tommy Armour III, also made the
scene even though he wasn't playing in the tournament.

Michael Campbell, a New Zealander of Maori descent, on Mike Tyson's new
tattoo: "The fact that it's on his face is significant.
Traditionally only the three or four chiefs of a Maori tribe--the
rangatira--have facial tattoos. But they never have the kind of
spikes Tyson has. The chieftains' tattoos are always circular.
They're based on the swirling mana good-luck symbol that a lot of
us wear on pendants. Tyson has those symbols on the right side of
the tattoo. But the spikes, which indicate aggression, are
something only a Maori warrior would have. So the tattoo is his
own personal design, and it really suits him."

Who knew that Teeth of the Dog was such a presidential hot spot? In consecutive weeks in February former commanders in chief Bill Clinton and George Bush teed it up at the famed Dominican Republic course.
Bush was accompanied by Pete Dye, the Teeth's designer, while
Clinton played with Dye's son P.B., who says, "He's still
cheating as if he were president."

SI has learned that an administrative snafu at last year's British Open compromised official money lists on both sides of the Atlantic. In the days following the Open, the R&A redistributed earnings for the lowest
finishers, 69th place through 83rd, paying slightly less than had
been originally announced. (For instance, David Toms, who
finished 83rd, actually received £7,200, not the £8,500 that he
was credited with following the conclusion of play.) The PGA Tour
learned of the problem in November and corrected its money list,
but the European tour has not yet updated its numbers. Luckily
for that tour, the money differential is modest enough that no
spots on the Order of Merit were affected.

THE POLL
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM

THIS WEEK: In SI's second PGA Tour Player Survey, Dana Byrum was
a repeat winner as the best-looking Tour wife/girlfriend. Of the
top three, who gets your vote?

LAST WEEK: At the Colonial, will Annika Sorenstam win, contend,
make the cut, miss the cut or embarrass herself?

Win.......2% Contend.......9% Make the cut.......49%
Miss the cut.......29% Embarrass herself.......11%

--Based on 6,728 responses to our informal survey

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RICH SCHMITT/AFP [INSIDE COVER] Double Dip In L.A., Mike Weir Snags a Second Win G13 COMEBACK KID While the leaders faltered, Weir fired a 66 on Sunday. COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES OUT OF LEFTFIELD Seven strokes back on Sunday, Weir shot a 66 tosteal a win in L.A. COLOR PHOTO: MARK HUMPHREY/AP (TYSON) MIXED MESSAGE Tyson's tat is O.K. with Campbell. COLOR PHOTO: HUY NGUYEN (BYRUM) Dana Byrum COLOR PHOTO: ADAM BUTLER/AP (NORDEGREN) Elin Nordegren COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD CORMAN (TOMS) Sonya Toms

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)