Weir strikes major blow for lefties

Bob Charles, the only other left-handed golfer to have won a major, wasted no time in sending his congratulations to Canada's Mike Weir on his winning of the 2003 Masters.

LEWINE MAIR

Mike Weir of Canada, the Masters winner, wears the green jacket, while last year's winner Tiger Woods lends a helping hand at the Augusta National Golf Club. — Pic. REUTERS-

Bob Charles, the only other left-handed golfer to have won a major, wasted no time in sending his congratulations to Canada's Mike Weir on his winning of the 2003 Masters.

"We're a minority group, you know," said the 1983 Open champion in a cheerful reference to how one more such body had made its presence felt in the week of the 67th Masters.

Martha Burk, from the National Council of Women's Organisations, along with eight other protest groups, spoke on that Saturday, while Weir had his say on Sunday after defeating Len Mattiace, a left-hander who plays right-handed, at the first extra hole. The two forged ahead, leaving Phil Mickelson, another "leftie", in third place.

Many of the experts, Charles included, had always thought that a southpaw was unlikely to win at Augusta as the course favours the right-hander with a natural draw. Weir, who, as a 13-year-old, was advised by no less a player than Jack Nicklaus "to stick to being a lefty," finds his natural draw taking him off in the other direction but, in a week when nothing counted for more than keeping out of the rough, he was relentlessly accurate from tee to green.

Although, as a teenager, he would hit balls on to a frozen Lake Heron, he had nothing to do with Augusta's water hazards in his closing, bogey-free 68. His putting was similarly spectacular. All day he holed "gut-wrenching" comeback putts of six to eight feet, with none more significant than the one at the last, which carried him into the play-off. "That was as nerve-racking as it gets," he said.

A devout Mormon, Weir attended Brigham Young University before turning professional in 1992. He paid five visits to the US PGA's qualifying school and had a handful of top-10 finishes between 1996 and 1998 before finally winning the 1999 Air Canada Open.

Playing alongside Tiger Woods in the last round of that year's PGA Championship in Chicago arguably did rather more for his game. His closing 80 told how he needed to tighten everything up to cope with the demands of major championship golf. Amid his own embarrassment, he also noted the degree to which Woods focussed over every shot.

"Even though it was a tough day, I took in a lot," Weir said.

He won that year's American Express Championship and the following year's Tour Championship. Then, though there was a lull in 2002 in which he felt that he was letting down not just himself but his Canadian supporters, he won twice at the start of this season.

Although Weir continued one trend in which the winner of the Masters has now come from the last pairing for 13 years, Darren Clarke, with whom he played in the first two rounds, added to another. Having fallen away after a glorious opening 66, Clarke made it 19 years since a first-round leader had gone on to win.

Clarke finished in a share of 28th place on 294 to the 295 of Nick Faldo and the 297 of Justin Rose, who followed rounds of 73, 76 and 71 with a 77 in which, like many another rookie at the Masters, he was too often caught out by the fast and furious greens.

Without doubt, the most impressive week for the UK contingent belonged to Paul Lawrie, who has benefited from nothing so much as a few home truths from his golf psychologist, Alan Fine.

It was two years ago, in Seattle, that the pair had a conversation in which Fine asked Lawrie about his goals. When Lawrie said he wanted to make the world's top 10, Fine had suggested he go wholly down the European route. "The way you act when you're in the States, you're never going to make any progress over here," he said.

In particular, the psychologist was referring to Lawrie's tendency to wish he were back at home the minute he arrived.

On this latest American trip, Lawrie has made the best of his three tournament weeks.

Like Colin Montgomerie, the loneliness of the American tour has him tucking into more American breakfasts than are good for him, but he has kept the damage to a minimum by forcing himself to work out for an hour a day.

Ninth in the BellSouth Classic two weeks before the Masters, Lawrie finished in a share of 15th place at Augusta alongside such players as Woods and Davis Love. "Not bad for me," the Scot said.

Montgomerie, meantime, will be wasting no time looking back over a spell in which he has missed virtually every cut. His coach, Denis Pugh, says that he will be looking forward and, at the same time, attempting to rediscover his old feel. "I can't say when, but Monty will be back," Pugh promised.

Everyone felt for Mattiace, who was in tears afterwards, and the way he put an end to his Masters dream by hitting into the trees left of the green at the first play-off hole. "If you care and you really want it, it gets to your heart," the American said.

The scores ($6 million Masters, played at the 7,290-yard, par-72 (36-36) Augusta National Golf Club, a-denotes amateur, x-won on first playoff hole): _x-Mike Weir 70-68-75-68 — 281; Len Mattiace 73-74-69-65 — 281; Phil Mickelson 73-70-72-68 — 283; Jim Furyk 73-72-71-68 — 284; Jeff Maggert 72-73-66-75 — 286; Ernie Els 79-66-72-70 — 287; Vijay Singh 73-71-70-73 — 287; Scott Verplank 76-73-70-69 — 288; Mark O'Meara 76-71-70-71— 288; Jonathan Byrd 74-71-71-72 — 288; Jose Maria Olazabal 73-71-71-73 — 288; David Toms 71-73-70-74 — 288; Retief Goosen 73-74-72-70 — 289; Tim Clark 72-75-71-71 — 289; Davis Love III 77-71-71-71 — 290; Angel Cabrera 76-71-71-72 — 290; Paul Lawrie 72-72-73-73 — 290; Rich Beem 74-72-71-73 — 290; K. J. Choi 76-69-72-73 — 290; Tiger Woods 76-73-66-75 — 290; a-Ricky Barnes 69-74-75-73 — 291; Bob Estes 76-71-74-71 — 292.

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003