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Weir won't shrink in face of Pebble's notorious greens

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Here's something you don't hear every day from pampered pros putting on poa annua.

"I just have confidence on these greens," Mike Weir said.

'I enjoy the challenge,' Mike Weir says of his approach to the U.S. Open. (Getty Images)  
'I enjoy the challenge,' Mike Weir says of his approach to the U.S. Open. (Getty Images)  
The Canadian major winner put himself atop the leaderboard of the U.S. Open on Thursday with red-hot putting and chipping on the sheltered inland holes of the fabled seaside links. Despite his bogey-bogey finish on the windswept 17th and 18th, the 2003 Masters champion is once again in the hunt at Pebble Beach with a 1-under 70.

"That was probably the strength of my game today was the putter," said Weir. "If they didn't go in, they looked like they were going in. And you need to do that on these greens."

Few in the 156-man field are as adept at playing these notorious greens. Weir has become an annual fixture on the leaderboard at its annual pro-am stop on the Monterey Peninsula. Seven times since 2000 he finished among the top 10 in the AT&T event, posting fourth or better five times from 2003-09. He has been runner-up twice in the Clambake.

"You definitely feel that comfort level of playing a golf course that you've played well on," Weir said. "You see the shots, even though the course is set up a little differently, you have your trees that you're aiming at and your targets. I know how to play the golf course. It's just a matter of being able to execute it. I'm not searching around for what I'm doing out there as far as game plan it goes."

A year ago, Weir was the first-round leader at Bethpage Black when he fired a torrid 64 on the rain-soaked course. He remained in the hunt into the weekend, when back-to-back 74s left in tied for 10th. He has shown a knack for contending in the U.S. Open, finishing among the top 20 in eight of his 11 starts including ties for third in 2003, fourth in 2004 and sixth in 2006.

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"I think I would say just the grind, more than anything," Weir said of his U.S. Open success. "I enjoy that challenge. I look at it that way. I think that more than anything that's probably why I've done well in the U.S. Opens because I know it's tough. You know every 3-footer is going to be tough. I just enjoy that."

For a stretch Thursday, Weir was making it look easy. After birdies at 12 and 13 he ran in a long birdie on the tricky par-5 to reach 2-under. Then after nearly holing out from a bunker on 15, he chipped in from behind the green on 16 to assume sole possession of the lead at 3-under.

"Yeah, that was a bonus," Weir said. "I was hoping to hit a great shot like I did there. I hit a great one, landed where I wanted and just happened to hit the flag. The best I could have done there is 10 feet, and that looked like probably what it was going to be."

Unfortunately for Weir, his momentum ended with a long wait on the windswept par-3 17th. His bogey-bogey finish left him in a logjam of players finishing barely in red figures.

"You don't want to finish a round like that," Weir said. "It's never a good thing. But it wasn't because I was looking at the scoreboard and looking at where I am in the tournament because it's Thursday, and I just happened to hit a couple of poor shots."

Poor shots have been a bad habit of late for Weir, who has been struggling this season since finishing sixth in his first start at the Bob Hope. He has slipped to 68th in the world rankings as he hit age 40 last month. He came to Pebble on the heels of three missed cuts in his past four starts, but he's not blaming his age.

"Anyways, it's just a number," he said of turning 40. "I don't think the golf ball knows how old you are."

That said, Weir will leave Pebble Beach for a three-week family vacation to Tuscany in celebration of his parents' 50th wedding anniversary, brother's 50th birthday and he and his wife's 40th birthdays. He doesn't plan to play again until the British Open at St. Andrews.

"I couldn't have done that at 25," he said of the extended break in the midst of the majors season. "It would have been too stressful in my mind to take three weeks off like that. But, you know, your priorities change when your parents get a little older and they're celebrating something special. You know, you've got to take the time to do those things.

"So, yeah, we're really looking forward to that. I'll do a little practicing when I'm over there. I'll find a range. I'll bring a shag bag, and find a worn out piece of grass to hit golf balls on."

Until then, if he can keep putting and chipping well around the worn-out poa annua greens at Pebble Beach, the Weirs might have something else to celebrate at the end of this week.

"If I can keep improving just a little bit every day, you know, I like my chances," he said. "The biggest thing, you have to have a short game to win an Open, to win any major, any tournament. My short game feels really good."

Scott Michaux is the sports columnist and golf writer for the Augusta Chronicle.

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