Weir comes through in four-man playoff

Monday, November 5, 2001

HOUSTON -- Mike Weir is the PGA Tour's version of Mr. November.

In a thrilling conclusion to the season, Weir won the Tour Championship on Sunday by making a 5-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole of a four-man playoff, giving him his first victory of the year.

"What a fantastic day, an unbelievable finish to the year," Weir said.

As usual, the Canadian saved his best for November.

Just three years ago, he won Q-school in late November to get back on tour. He ended last year in style by winning the final official PGA Tour event of the season on Nov. 12, the American Express Championship in Spain.

"I'll take them any time I can get them," said Weir, who won for the third time on the PGA Tour, but for the first time in the United States.

This was the sweetest of all.

In a field that featured the top 29 players on the PGA Tour, Weir closed with a 68 despite a sloppy bogey on the final hole of regulation. He felt lucky to get into a playoff with hard-charging Ernie Els, the theatrical Sergio Garcia and PGA champion David Toms.

With darkness descending on Champions Golf Club, Weir ended it quickly with a wedge that stopped 5 feet behind the hole on the 18th green.

"I really wanted to seize that opportunity," said Weir, who became the first international winner of the Tour Championship in its 15-year history. "Those guys are such great players, I didn't want to give them another chance."

Woods missing

The playoff didn't have Tiger Woods, but it was no less entertaining.

Els, who birdied the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, hit a 3-wood into the trees on the playoff tee shot and seemingly had no shot. Instead, the Big Easy made it look that way with a wedge that cleared a 30-foot tree just 20 feet in front of him within 40 feet of the hole.

Desperate to keep alive his streak of at least one PGA Tour victory every season since 1994, his birdie putt was headed for the hole until it broke right at the very end.

"I gave myself a chance, at least," Els said. "I'm quite proud of myself for hanging in there the last couple of holes."

Garcia was behind a tree -- "Not the first time I've been there," said the Spanish kid who made his reputation by gouging out a shot from behind a tree at Medinah two years ago. This time, he got questionable relief, but couldn't escape the jungle.

He kept everyone on edge until the end, nearly holing an 80-foot chip from behind the green. He dropped to his knees and put his hands over his head in disbelief when the ball broke below the cup at the last second.

Toms and Weir were the only players to hit the fairway, although Toms' ball was just short of a sand-filled divot. He hit 9-iron to 35 feet, and left the birdie putt short.

That set the stage for Weir, and his putt was true.

"This probably is my biggest win," Weir said. "The field was stellar."

The finish was even better.

Toms had a 67, while Garcia and Els each closed with a 68 to join Weir at 14-under 270.

Scott Verplank, the 54-hole leader, was poised to join the party until he missed a 10-foot par putt on 17, then missed a 20-foot birdie on 18 to finish one stroke back, along with Kenny Perry.

Woods made an early appearance on the leaderboard, three strokes out of the lead when he made the turn. He finished with two bogeys for a 70 and finished six strokes behind in a tie for 13th.

Still, he won the PGA Tour money title and the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average for the third straight year. With five victories, including the Masters and The Players Championship, he already clinched the PGA of America player of the year and likely will collect the tour's award, which is a vote of the players.

"All those are good things. I'm proud of the way I played the entire year," Woods said. "It wasn't quite as good as last year, but it was still a pretty darn good year."

Verplank began the final round under warm, breezy conditions with a one-stroke lead over David Duval, although it was anyone's tournament at the turn.

Four players -- Verplank, Toms, Weir and Perry -- were tied for the lead.

Verplank had said Saturday afternoon that making all pars wouldn't get it done, and he proved to be a prophet. He was tentative with his birdie chances on the back nine, and when his last chance went left of the cup, he finished with an even-par 71.

Duval could have run away with the tournament if he could take back two holes -- a triple-bogey on the par-5 13th on Friday, and a double-bogey on the par-3 12th in the final round. He missed birdie putts of 12 feet on the last two holes, took 34 putts in the final round and finished two strokes out of the playoff.

Els had the most dramatic finish in regulation.

Lingering in the pack at 13-under, the Big Easy made two good pars -- one from a bunker on 16, the other a two-putt from some 75 feet on 17 -- then showed why he has won two U.S. Opens.

Down to his last chance, Els hit a wedge 5 feet behind the hole for a birdie.

Garcia holed a 30-footer for birdie on No. 17, and had a chance to win with a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole that just slid by the cup.

Weir and Toms were the only two that made mistakes.

Toms missed an 8-foot par putt on 17 to drop back to 14-under.

Weir had two clutch par saves on the back nine, and had control of the tournament with an 8-foot par putt on 17. However, his drive found the bunker on No. 18, he came up short of a greenside bunker and pitched to 15 feet, missing the par putt.

Weir headed straight for the range and watched the conclusion from a big-screen television as he was hitting balls. Weir hit 20 shots with his driver, then split the fairway in the playoff hole.

"I wanted to redeem myself on that hole," Weir said.

He did just that, and came away with another big win in November.

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