| Mike Weir celebrates with wife Bricia after he won the Augusta Masters Sunday. (Reuters)
It was obvious all along that this was going to be a different sort of Masters. It was, but in a totally unexpected way. After a 10-month build-up and swirl of issues, the only demonstration that really took hold was the show of left-handed putting and clutch golf by Mike Weir, who was wearing a green jacket when he left.
Weir became the first Canadian to win one of golf’s major championships and became the first lefthander to win a major in 40 years when he beat Long Island, N.Y., native Len Mattiace on the first hole of a playoff. That occurred after both of them had beaten a star-filled leader board in golf’s most prestigious setting, Sunday at Augusta National.
The 32-year-old from Sarnia, Ontario, who used to play hockey in the winter because it was too cold to play golf, is a Masters champion because he overcame Mattiace’s blistering final-round 65. Weir played flawlessly, not getting any bogeys until the playoff hole — the par-4 tenth — when he tapped in for a 5, knowing his opponent could do no better than 6.
That both made history and prevented it. Tiger Woods failed to become the first to win three consecutive Masters titles. In the end, Woods was a ceremonial finisher, helping Weir on with his 42-regular green jacket.
Woods never got into contention Sunday and finished tied for 15th. He was 2 over par, nine shots behind Weir and Mattiace.
It all was part of an eventful week that included very quiet protests over Augusta National’s men-only membership policy a half-mile away Saturday morning. The only incursion of politics inside the gates occurred after the awards ceremony, when Weir received a phone call from Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the first ever from that country’s chief executive to a Masters champion.
“Yeah, it’s been obviously a little bit odd, with a bunch of things going on outside the gates,” Weir said. “And with the weather and everything, it’s just been a little bit of a hectic week.
“But I didn’t pay much attention to that. I was here to play a golf tournament.”
He approaches every week that way. It is what got him a golf scholarship to Brigham Young University and kept him going when he failed five times to get his PGA Tour card. His outlook sustained him when he finally got his card, and quickly lost it, forcing him to try again in 1998. He endured lean years when he had to prevail on his wife, Bricia, to caddie for him.
“It’s an unbelievable progression that I finally got here, but I think even back then, I believed I would get here somehow. I would figure it out,” said the man who has won three times on the PGA Tour this year.
Figuring out a way to hang in there Sunday proved really tough. Woods went south when he double-bogeyed the relatively easy third hole (he drove way right). Third-round leader Jeff Maggert, playing in the final twosome with Weir, had a bizarre triple-bogey 7 on the third hole when he accidentally hit himself with a shot out of a bunker, taking a two-stroke penalty. Vijai Singh, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Jose Maria Olazabal had less dramatic flameouts, but they couldn’t keep up with Mattiace.
The man who learned golf before the family moved from Jericho to Florida when he was 14 pitched in for a birdie on the par-5 eighth and went on a phenomenal run. He took the lead at 6 under when he eagled the par-5 13th. He added birdies on the 15th and 16th to go 8 under and seemed unstoppable.
“I was having a career day at a career place,” Mattiace said. “It was one of my goals a few years ago, to be a competitor in the majors. And this day proved to me that I can do some great stuff.”
But Weir still had the right stuff. Mattiace bogeyed the difficult par-4 18th, dropping him to 7 under, tied with Weir. The latter forced the first Masters playoff in 13 years with an icy fast downhill 8-footer on 18 that he said he wouldn’t wish on anyone.
He came close enough with another slick putt on the playoff hole, after Mattiace put his second shot behind a tree to the right and never did get back on track.
Come to think of it, if the putts seemed as if they were rolling on ice, who would be better to take them than a Canadian'
“My dad did put a net in our garage to hit balls into,” Weir said. “And we would fish balls out of the pond at my golf course, and on a decent day in the winter, we’d hit them into the lake — I grew up on Lake Huron.”
Weir also grew up wondering if he ought to switch to playing right-handed. At 13, he wrote to Jack Nicklaus for advice. He still has the return letter, telling him to be true to his natural swing. That swing yesterday made Weir the first left-handed major champion since Bob Charles won the 1963 British Open. (Mattiace, incidentally, does everything lefty but golf.)
The new Masters champ, though, is more proud of being from north of the border than left of the ball. He was thrilled to hear from his country’s chief executive.
“He said he’s in the Dominican Republic, sitting there with the president of the Dominican Republic,” Weir said. “He said they were watching, and he was jumping up and down.
“And he said he was very proud of me.”