Rising to occasion, Weir claims Masters title

By Guy L. Austin
Executive Editor
austin@starhq.com

   AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Mike Weir's chances of claiming a coveted Masters championship seemed to be slipping away as third-round play came to a close on Saturday.
   During Sunday's fourth and final round, though, Weir got back on his game and handled the pressure to become the first Canadian to win the event, and the first left-handed player to capture a major since Bob Charles took the 1963 British Open.
   "Unbelievable," said Weir, who defeated Len Mattiace in a one-hole playoff. "It's something I've dreamt of, something I worked very hard at. I'm having a hard time putting it into words because words won't do it justice."
   Weir, who led the event by four shots at the end of the second round, but trailed by two by the end of the third, made a short tap-in for bogey on the playoff hole, where Mattiace scored a double-bogey.
   Capturing the sixth PGA victory of his career -- his first major -- Weir had the pleasure of allowing two-time defending Masters champion Tiger Woods slip the prized green jacket over his shoulders.
   "Thanks, Tig," Weir told him. "It feels good."
   Weir made two clutch pars to force the playoff with Mattiace, dropping a 5-foot putt on No. 17 before sinking a 6-footer on the 18th.
   "This was definitely nerve-racking," said Weir, picking up his third victory of the season. "I tried to gather myself on each putt. Every putt on this golf course is tough."
   For Mattiace, the playoff tarnished what was an otherwise excellent day on the course.
   Holing a 60-foot putt on No. 10, he charged down the stretch to build a two-shot advantage, but his bogey on No. 18 -- leaving him with a 65 -- left the door open for Weir and the Masters' first playoff since Nick Faldo defeated Raymond Floyd in 1990.
   Mattiace and Weir finished at 7-under-281.
   Aiming for a record third straight Masters title, Woods was also attempting to become the first player to win the event after trailing by more than eight strokes at the halfway point.
   Down by 11 shots at the end of the second round, Woods started Sunday only four shots off the pace.
   However, a double-bogey on the shortest par 4 at Augusta National basically spoiled any chance Woods, who finished with a 2-over-290, had of pulling off a stunning comeback.
   Phil Mickelson was third with a 5-under-283, while Jim Furyk's 4-under-284 was good enough for fourth.
   Jeff Maggert, who led at the beginning of the day, finished in fifth with a 2-under-286.