- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. (AP) - If the cashier at a Utah department store recognized Mike Weir, imagine the surprise of seeing the former Masters champion and eight-time PGA Tour winner buying a bag of plastic golf balls.

“No, I don’t think I’ve ever bought those before,” Weir said.

It spoke to the severity of pain in his right elbow, where he partially tore tendons a year ago at Hilton Head. Weir tried to play through it the rest of the 2010 season but missed the cut in seven of 10 tournaments and never cracked the top 30 in the other three.

“It was four or five months of poor golf and I shouldn’t have been out there,” Weir said. “It was kind of a year that was wasted. There’s definitely a stubborn side to me, a hockey mentality that I can tough this out. I thought it was bad tendinitis. I was playing every day and it kept getting worse. To play when you’re scared to hit the ball is not good.”

That’s where the plastic golf balls come in.

Weir didn’t pick up a club for three months to rest his elbow, and he was eager to get back to work. In the basement of his Utah home, he grabbed a 6-iron to make an easy swing.

“Just the impact of the ball on the tee hurt,” Weir said. “I called the doctors and said, ‘That hurts.’ And they said, ‘That’s good.’ It’s scar tissue and I had to break through that.”

So he went to the store to buy plastic balls to soften the blow.

“That’s how I started my rehab _ little dink shots with plastic balls,” he said. “After a month of that, I was hitting wedges off the ground.”

Weir said he is at 90 percent strength. He can produce any swing, even digging a ball out of the rough without flinching. The Canadian is on a major medical exemption, but has only two tournaments remaining to earn $217,097 for full status the rest of the year.

He is not worried about that. Nor is he worried about a world ranking that has plummeted to No. 214, after ending 2009 at No. 36. This is a Presidents Cup year, and Weir risks being left off the International side for the first time since 1998.

He is not bitter about his lost year. All things considered, Weir feels fortunate.

“I just want to get back,” he said. “Honestly, I feel lucky to be playing. When I came back after three months off and was chipping those balls, I thought, ‘Wow, this is worst than I thought.’ So I feel grateful to be out here. Whether it takes a few months or six months, I feel like I’m on the right track.”

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MASTERS FIELD: Through six PGA Tour events this year, four players have earned a spot in the Masters. There are six weeks left before Augusta National again uses the top 50 in the world ranking to issue invitations. Seven PGA Tour events remain where the winner can qualify for the Masters.

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