AUGUSTA, GA. - Mike Weir is already a winner at the Masters this year.
He and Phil Mickelson beat Brendan Steele and Kyle Stanley in a friendly match while the four of them practised together on Tuesday. The left-handed veterans edged the right-handed youngsters 1-up.
Getting a win Sunday – or even making the cut Friday – will be a significantly bigger challenge for Weir, 41.
He is coming off a lost season due to an elbow injury and subsequent surgery, and has yet to find his form again. He’s missed the cut in four of his five starts in 2012, with his lone paycheque coming at a European Tour event.
But the Brights Grove, Ont., native remains optimistic he’ll eventually come out the other end of his troubles, if what he said Tuesday at Augusta National is any indication.
While the 2003 Masters champion acknowledged he might go into his 13th Masters with “lower expectations” for his performance, he said he’s making progress overall in his game.
“It’s just going to be a process to get through it,” he said beneath the branches of the ancient oak tree beside the Augusta National clubhouse. “I’m in this for the long haul.”
Jack Nicklaus even encouraged him that things will get better.
Weir acknowledged his elbow isn’t quite 100 per cent, but he’s been able to practise and play without bother.
He had doubts last December, and even into January about being able to play in the Masters because of his recovery from the surgery. But once he declared his elbow fit enough, he knew he’d come back to Augusta – for not just the golf but also the pageantry that goes with being a former champion.
Weir practised early Tuesday, joining the trio of Americans on the first tee. Weir and Mickelson have a long friendship but the Canadian hadn’t yet met Steele or Stanley, both of whom joined the PGA Tour in 2011.
It’s one of the charms of the Masters – former champions practising with youngsters, sharing their knowledge.
Stanley said Weir putted well and offered lots of tips on how to navigate the notoriously tricky Augusta greens. “He just kind of helped me out on the greens,” the long-bomber said. “Had never met him before but he’s such a nice guy.”
With their chit-chat opportunities limited because of different eras and interests – “I’m not a big hockey fan,” the Washington state-born Stanley said – they also took time to bask in the beauty of the course and the throngs of fans who crowded around every hole. With popular Mickelson in the group, some greens were lined 10 and 15 people deep.
But Weir had his share of his followers, too. Coming off the 18th green, he was greeted with cheers of “Go Canada” and wishes for good luck.
Marty Hackel, the fashion guru at Golf Digest magazine, stopped Weir on his way to the clubhouse and shook hands. “Good to see you here,” Hackel said.
With all of Weir’s troubles last year, just being here wasn’t a given.