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Weeks: Weir's hard work pays off at Byron Nelson

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Bob Weeks
5/19/2014 10:16:19 AM
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In the end, Mike Weir didn't win the HP Byron Nelson.

And yet he emerged from the tournament with perhaps something just as important as a first-place cheque and a trophy. Weir got a sign, an indication that all the work he put in, all the hours he spent on the range, the rehab he did after elbow surgery, the tinkering with clubs and instructors, and fighting off the naysayers who told him he was done, has been worth it.

Sure it was just one tournament and it will take a few more solid performances to show that the magic has returned for good for Canada's favourite lefthander, but if nothing else, Weir can claim salvation. He knows that he can do it, play golf on the PGA Tour at the highest level.

Weir led the tournament early on Sunday, rattling off four birdies in the first five holes. Bogeys at six and nine dropped him out of top spot and although he fought back valiantly at the end, his run came up just short. Brendan Todd pulled out a two-shot win with a sparkling bogey-free final round.

For many, Weir's performance was a surprise. But for some time now, he's has been telling all that his ball-striking has been in form but an uncooperative putter is all that's been holding him back. At the Masters there were blips that proved what he was saying. He climbed to within a shot of the lead during the second round and he had three solid rounds at the Wells Fargo before being derailed with a final-round 77.

This week, it finally worked, thanks in part to exchanging an oversized putter grip with a well-worn, thin one that was on an old putter. He finished second in Strokes Gained – Putting and first in Putts in Greens in Regulation.
Despite his confidence and unwavering optimism, Weir has, at times, questioned his future during his struggles. Over the past four years, he's had doubts. There were doubts when he missed 18 straight cuts and fell outside the top 1,000 in the Official World Golf Ranking. There were doubts when he had to use up two career money list exemptions to keep playing. There were doubts when he earned a grand total of $23,312 over a two-year stretch in 2011-12.

But Mike Weir never lost hope. He believed he would get back, if not to the point of winning another major then at least to where he could compete on the PGA Tour. The amount of time Weir put into his game, to trying to find an answer would wear out most professionals. And to be sure, there were a few dead ends he went down.

But that's all now in the past. Weir said he has no plans to look in the rear-view mirror.

"I don't think I will, to be honest," said Weir on the last four years. "I'm here now and I'm pushing forward. I've been asked that question a lot, I've answered it a lot. I am where I am now and I'm pushing forward. I'm not going to reflect on the past; that's history now. I'm playing good golf and I want to keep that going."

Still, he hasn't forgotten just how difficult this stretch has been. And as his game deteriorated after hitting a root at the 2011 Heritage, the questions increased, questions about his game and his ability to still compete.

"I just knew that it was inevitable," Weir said of the constant inquiry. "I didn't take offence to it. It was matter of fact – I was playing poorly. I was trying to dig myself out of it. I didn't have any explanation for it except what got me into it, which was obviously the elbow issue, having surgery then trying to play through that and then basically being afraid to hit the ground, the bad habits I got into and probably coming back a little bit early."

The bad habits piled on. One caused another and then another. At times, Weir struggled with the driver so badly, it was frightening. During one round where he shot 78, one of his playing partners told me later that if his short game wasn't all-world, Weir might have shot 90.

But he stuck with it, kept working and now is finally seeing the fruits of his labour.

"I don't know if my swing is that much different really," said Weir. "There are some aspects of my game, being a little older, that aren't as dynamic as they used to be. But at the same time there are things that are a little better. I have a little better understanding of things. I've learned a lot from a couple of teachers I've used the past couple of years. I think that's helped me too."

The finish provided a long list of accomplishments for Weir: His first top 10 since 2010; the first time he's led a tournament since 2007; the first time since last year's John Deere that he's had four rounds in the 60s; a cheque for $745,200 (US), and a move of 100 spots on the FedEx Cup point list to 87th. While there are no guarantees, it should be enough to allow him to keep his playing privileges for the 2014-15 season.

Of course all those are just numbers. What truly matters most for Mike Weir is being able to play golf and enjoy himself once again. The smile as he walked off the 18th green on Sunday was evidence of that.

Mike Weir  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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