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International team member Mike Weir is congratulated on his Presidents Cup win against United States team member Tiger Woods (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)
International team member Mike Weir is congratulated on his Presidents Cup win against United States team member Tiger Woods (Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press)

Rubenstein: A memorable Sunday at Royal Montreal Add to ...

The Presidents Cup is on next week at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, where the U.S. team will be heavily favoured over the International side. Graham DeLaet made the International team, so Canadians will have a strong rooting interest.

As was the case with Mike Weir before him, DeLaet has been clear that he really wanted to make the team. He did that as the season waned, and his game only improved week to week. Captain Nick Price therefore didn’t have to use one of his two captain’s picks for DeLaet. He’d have done so, but it’s much better that DeLaet made the team on performance and points.

Meanwhile, DeLaet’s imminent appearance puts one in mind of one of the most significant moments in Canadian sport. That was when Weir played Woods in a Sunday singles match during the 2007 Presidents Cup at the Royal Montreal Golf Club. There was plenty of theatre all week at the historic Canadian club as International captain Gary Player and U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus danced, meandered, and wandered around the question of whether Woods and Weir would meet. It was obvious, however, that the captains would find a way to put them together.

The spectators at Royal Montreal wanted it. Canadian golfers wanted it. The Presidents Cup demanded it for the excitement it would bring to the Sunday singles, and the attention that putting Canada’s top player against the world’s best player would bring. Weir was four and a half years removed from his Masters win, but he was still one of the game’s elite players. He wanted to tee it up against Woods. No fear. Just anticipation.

Their match would have nothing to do with the Presidents Cup result, but everything to do with the atmosphere around Royal Montreal. The U.S. team was leading by seven points heading into the 12 Sunday singles matches. Only somebody with a great capacity for fantasy would believe the International team could overcome the U.S. lead. That just wasn’t going to happen, and didn’t. The U.S. ended up winning by five points.

All that mattered to Canadians was the Weir-Woods match. Some 30,000 spectators were on hand during a glorious Sunday. Not a cloud in the sky. The course gleaming. Weir and Woods warming up on the range with all eyes on them. Woods warming up by starting with a long iron and hitting shots as short at 75 yards. Asked why he started his preparation that way, he said that it was to ensure his arms synced up with his body. If he could keep his swing so slow, yet hit the ball solidly, well, he had something going.

Along with some 30,000 spectators, I followed the match. Nobody but friends and family followed the other 11 matches out on the course. The wives of the International players were wearing Team Canada jerseys. Ernie Els’ wife Liezl had suggested this idea to Weir’s wife Bricia the night before the big match. Excellent idea. Weir paid for the jerseys.

1997 Presidents Cup
Tiger Woods shares a laugh with Mike Weir's wife Bricia following their singles match 

Weir got out of the gate quickly, and was three-up after six holes. Was it possible that Weir would walk over Woods? That couldn’t happen, could it? No, it couldn’t. Woods found his form with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes, while Weir made bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes. Woods was one-up with three holes to play. You could feel the crowd thinking it had been fun for a while, but now that it was all Woods, he would go on to win the match.

But wait. Weir hadn’t feared a seven-foot par putt on the 72nd green of the 2003 Masters, knowing he had to make it to get into a playoff against Len Mattiace. He told himself that Masters wasn’t going to end with his missing the putt, and then poured it into the middle of the hole. He won the playoff. Weir dropped the puck the next day at the Air Canada Centre when the Toronto Maple Leafs played the Philadelphia Flyers. He was wearing the green jacket that goes to the Masters winner. The crowd gave him a prolonged standing ovation.

Woods was still one-up when he and Weir played the par-three 17th hole. Woods missed his 15-foot birdie putt. Weir holed for birdie from 10-foot. All square. One to play.

Weir hit a perfect drive down the left side of the 18th fairway. Woods’ tee shot was left all the way and found the water hazard. He dropped 247 yards from the hole and ripped a hook to the right fringe. Weir hit a perfect approach, 15-feet behind the hole. Woods, being Woods, nearly holed his pitch shot and was sure to make a bogey. Weir, being Weir, and having a sense of the occasion, applauded.

Woods didn’t hesitate in walking right over to Weir and conceding his birdie putt. The match ended in that gesture of sportsmanship, as intensely as the players had fought all the way around. Weir had won the match against Woods.

That evening I ran into Weir’s brother Jim outside the team hotel in downtown Montreal. Jim was enjoying a cigar. He was beaming. So were Canadians coast to coast. Mike Weir had taken down Tiger Woods. So what if the U.S. had easily beaten the International side? Sunday was all about Weir playing Woods.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem recalled their match this week when he was on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. Finchem was discussing the topic of the day: whether it was important for the International side to win next week. The U.S. has won seven of the nine matches, lost once, and the match was halved the other time. There’s a sense that the International side needs to win for the Presidents Cup to be taken seriously. Maybe. Maybe not.

Finchem referred to the excitement that Sunday at Royal Montreal. A single singles match had taken precedence over everything else, including the overall result. It only mattered to Canadians and golf-watchers everywhere that Weir was going up against Woods. Their match stands as one of the biggest moments in Canadian golf. Weir has said it might at the end of his career be an even bigger moment than his Masters win.

It’s unlikely that DeLaet will play Woods in a Sunday singles match at Muirfield Village. But you never know. Whatever happens, Weir will be watching next week’s Presidents Cup. He’s spoken with DeLaet about the competition. Weir is an expert in dealing with pressure and using it to one’s advantage, and of the feelings that bubble up during a team competition.

Weir was the hero of the 2007 Presidents Cup. He made it memorable. Six years later, the memories linger.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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