ETOBICOKE, CANADA | It’s hard to believe there’s more pressure on any golfer anywhere than on Mike Weir when he plays the RBC Canadian Open. Weir calls the tournament his fifth major, because it’s that important to him.
A Canadian hasn’t won the tournament since Pat Fletcher did in 1954, so when Weir comes to the event – no matter how many of his fellow citizens are entered – he’s the main man.
Weir, though, missed the cut Friday at the St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto. He came in to this national championship after missing the cut at the Open Championship in St. Andrews, which followed a 17-day holiday he and his family took in Italy. They were celebrating his recent 40th birthday, his brother Jim’s 50th birthday, and their folks’ 50th wedding anniversary.
The pasta was excellent and so was the wine, but Weir didn’t exactly get much practice time in Tuscany. He wasn’t there to prepare for the Open and then the Canadian Open anyway, and he knew he’d probably be coming into the important championships with some rust on his game. If rust never sleeps, as the Canadian singer and songwriter Neil Young famously noted, it didn’t sleep for Weir. It showed.
At St. George’s, Weir simply hit the ball poorly. He made no excuses for his play, even though he had to stop playing the Wednesday pro-am after 15 holes because of tendinitis in his right arm. He’s a lefty, and as his fellow Canadian Stephen Ames said, “it’s tough to play golf properly when there’s a problem in one’s lead arm.” Weir was in visible pain on Wednesday but he can never be invisible at a Canadian Open. That’s been the case for years, and especially since he won the 2003 Masters and came so close to winning the 2004 Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario.
That year Weir led by two shots over Vijay Singh with three holes to go in the last round. But Weir slipped coming in, Singh caught him, and beat him in their sudden-death playoff. Weir was deeply disappointed.
Weir was in a victory drought then that didn’t end until the fall of 2007 when he won the Fry’s Electronics Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. He hasn’t won since, and he’s certainly been having his swing issues. Weir’s short game is as deft as ever, but he’s having trouble finding fairways. There was a premium on driving at St. George’s, where the fairways had been narrowed and the rough had been allowed to grow to four inches. Golfers who hit the ball in the fairway could go low, as became apparent early in the tournament when there were some 64s, a 62, and then, in the third round, a 60 from the Sweden’s Carl Pettersson.
By then, Weir had left the premises. He’d hit only a couple of fairways in the first round when he shot a 2-over par 72 and wasn’t much better when he shot 74 in the second round. He acknowledged that he played poorly and refused to use the tendinitis as an excuse. Equally, he had said all week that he accepted the intense focus on him and even welcomed it. There had been times in previous years when it looked like Weir was uncomfortable with all the attention, but he’s embraced it in recent Canadian Opens.
Clearly, though, Weir was in dire straits with his game. He knew he’d not prepared as he needs to, and that he was playing a course where he absolutely had to put the ball in the fairway. He didn’t, and the results told the tale. He’d missed the cut in his fifth major for the first time since 2006.
“If you’re driving the ball on the fairway, you can score,” Weir said after his second round. “If you’re hitting it from where I was, you can’t. You can’t score from the rough here. And you know, I was in the rough all day.”
Weir also fought all day. That’s been the way he’s won eight PGA Tour events, including The Masters. He’s experienced enough to know that good times in golf rarely last. They come. They go. They come. Maybe.
“Everybody has times in their career that they struggle, and right now is my time,” Weir said, “and I have to just keep working hard. That’s all you can do.”
Weir soon finished answering the questions asked of him. He was accommodating, as always. He’d tried his best. What’s a golfer to do?
What Weir was planning was to return to his home near Salt Lake City, take a few days off to rest his right arm, and then get to work. His fifth major ended unhappily, but there’s more golf ahead. He’ll try to be ready. He’ll try to figure things out. He’s done it before. This seems like a big test. Still, Weir-watchers won’t bet against his overcoming his latest challenge, and finding his form again. More than anything, he’s a fighter.