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Masterful putter deserts Weir

KEN FIDLIN, Special to The Free Press   2003-05-09 11:31:30  

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It didn't take long for Mike Weir to return to the world of mere mortals.

As he stepped to the first tee yesterday morning for the opening round of the new Wachovia Championship, his first competitive round since he won the Masters, Weir expected to hear the starter describe his most recent accomplishment.

Instead, he heard: "Ladies and gentlemen. This is the 8:18 pairing. From Bright's Grove, Ontario, Canada . . . Mike Weir.

No Masters champion, no fanfare at all. Plain old Mike, just one of the boys.

"I was wondering if they were going to announce it," he said. "I was kind of waiting for that nice ring of 'Masters champion' in my ear before I teed off and it didn't happen."

Neither did any of the competitive fireworks that took him into uncharted territory at Augusta National.

Shaking off the rust of nearly a month of inactivity, Weir scraped it around in even-par 72.

While at first blush that might seem rather pedestrian, it was still a decent day's work at Quail Hollow Club, especially under the conditions in the morning. Many of the players, including Weir, compared the course favourably with any U.S. Open venue.

Weir hit the ball decently enough from tee to green and even holed out a 161-yard eight-iron from the 12th fairway for eagle. But the weapon he used most effectively at Augusta -- his putter -- was not much of an ally yesterday.

"Inside of 10 feet, maybe I made enough putts on Sunday at Augusta for two rounds," he said.

"I sure didn't make many of them (yesterday). I lipped out five or six putts. If I could have made a few of those, it would have been a really good score.

"On the bright side, I haven't shot myself out of it. Hopefully, I can keep building and by Sunday be clicking on all cylinders."

Maybe he should get a lesson from his friend and Presidents Cup teammate Nick Price, who used only 20 putts to shoot himself into a share of the first-round lead at six under par.

Normally, on fairways and greens softened by rain and with little or no wind, PGA Tour players eat up regular event venues, but yesterday morning, low scores were at a premium, with only one player -- Calgary resident Stephen Ames -- breaking 70.

In the afternoon, as the course dried out and players' drives started rolling on faster fairways, scores dropped dramatically. All the best scoring of the day, including matching 66s by Price and Fred Couples, was accomplished in the afternoon heat.

"The golf course isn't easy," Weir said. "You're hitting a lot of mid- to long irons into greens. For the most part, I played pretty well. I just have to sharpen up my putting.

"I don't usually struggle reading greens and I couldn't figure them out today.

"I even had (caddie Brennan Little) looking at the putt on the last hole and I don't usually do that. It fooled both of us. They're interesting greens. Really deceptive."

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