- The Augusta Chronicle - Friday, April 5, 2013

The two unlikely sudden-death playoff opponents in the 2003 Masters Tournament walked onto the 10th tee of Augusta National Golf Club late Sunday afternoon to settle the issue with a 73rd hole.

Minutes later, Mike Weir raised his arms in triumph on the green, having tapped in for a bogey to beat Len Mattiace’s double bogey to become the first left-handed Masters champion and the first Ca­nadian to win a major.

While Weir was getting his green jacket slipped over his shoulders by Tiger Woods, Mattiace was choking back sobs, the emotions of a long, grueling day boiling over.

Mattiace recovered enough to focus on the positives – the two-time PGA Tour winner had stood on the brink of winning golf’s most coveted tournament, an accomplishment he still cherishes.

“It was a great week for me,” the 45-year-old Jack­sonville, Fla., resident said recently. “I hit a lot of good shots and did a lot of good things. I tied for the low score in the Masters after 72 holes, which is something a lot of good players don’t get to experience.”

Weir, who had already won five times on the PGA Tour, was poised to use his first major championship as a springboard to join golf’s elite. His victory at Augusta was his third of the season, and he ended the year ranked fifth in the world.

“In my own mind, that was the next step,” said Weir, 42, who lives in Sandy, Utah. “I had won some nice tournaments – a World Golf Cham­pionship, the Tour Cham­pionship – and contended in some majors. But I hadn’t gotten the job done. So to win (at Augusta) was huge, in my own mind.”

Ten years later, neither has taken the career path they believed possible after that Masters. Both had injuries that led to swing problems, which led to dips in confidence. Neither was among the longest of hitters (Weir was 68th in driving distance in 2003, Mattiace 153rd) but had carved out solid careers to that point based on accuracy, deft short games and putting.

When the accuracy went, even more pressure was put on their short games, resulting in too many putts for par or worse.

“I developed some bad habits,” Mattiace said. “The knees are fine. I haven’t had any issues with them for years.”

Said Weir: “(I’m) just trying to find a way to make things more consistent … play my kind of game, which is precision golf. I haven’t found that yet.”

Short hitters take charge

Weir and Mattiace were on no one’s radar when the 2003 Masters began.

Woods, at the height of his game, had already won three times that season and was going for his third consecutive Masters title.

Augusta National had begun a series of changes to add distance to the course. Heavy rain that washed out Monday’s practice round and accumulated 2 inches left the course wet, long and in the wheelhouse for Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and the game’s other bombers.

Weir was eager to put a bad tournament in Atlanta the week before behind him. Mattiace, who had won at Los Angeles and Memphis the year before, had made 6-of-8 cuts and tied for eighth at Riviera. But he was smarting from a missed cut at his hometown event, The Players Championship, two weeks before the Masters.

Weir opened with 70, four shots off the lead. Mattiace struggled with 73.

Six birdies in the second round lifted Weir to a commanding lead. His 68 put him at 6-under-par 138, four shots clear of 18-hole leader Darren Clarke. Mattiace struggled again, with 74, and entered the weekend nine shots behind Weir.

Weir nearly shot himself out of the tournament the next day with 75. Veteran Jeff Maggert birdied five of his last six holes, including the three closing holes, to take the lead. Weir was in second, two shots behind, but Vijay Singh (70), Mickelson (72) and Woods (66) were lurking. Mattiace’s 69 put him five shots off the lead.

The next day, Mattiace made his startling move. Birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 got him into red numbers for the first time that week. He then pitched in birdie from behind the mound on the left-front of the eighth green.

Mattiace rained a long birdie putt at No. 10, then hit a 4-wood to within 10 feet at No. 13 and made the eagle putt. Birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 gave Mattiace a two-shot lead, with two holes to play.

Weir wasn’t making any mistakes behind him. On the 18th tee, Mattiace stood 8-under for the day.

Mattiace hit driver and the ball sliced into pine straw on the right. He had to pitch out, and his 9-iron for the third shot came to rest 35 feet from the hole. Mattiace two-putted for his 65 to finish at 7-under, then waited in the Butler Cabin.

Weir birdied both par-5s on the back, made par on Nos. 16 and 17, then found his own difficulties at No. 18. Weir faced a 45-foot putt for birdie and the outright victory, but he left it 8 feet short.

The good news is that the putt was straight, slightly uphill. Weir jammed it in to force the playoff, finishing with a bogey-free 68.

“It was a big moment,” he said. “I was proud to be able to do that.”

In the playoff, both players hit the fairway, but Mattiace then missed the green to the left, always a brutal up-and-down attempt. Blocked by a tree from going right at the hole, he left himself with a 30-foot putt that he hit past the hole and onto the back fringe. He missed his bogey attempt.

Weir had hit the green and safely three-putted from 30 feet to win.

“Len played an incredible round of golf,” Weir said. “I’ve been there myself. It’s tough when you’re right there and you can taste it and you don’t pull it off.”

Despite his display of emotion after the round, Mattiace said he quickly put the tournament behind him.

“If you second-guess things, you’ll drive yourself bonkers,” he said. “I would have liked to have won a green jacket, but two or three days after the tournament, I had moved on.”

A tale of two slumps

Weir’s slide didn’t come right away. He successfully defended his Northern Trust Open championship in 2004, but after winning seven times in five years, he didn’t win again until a PGA Tour Fall Series event in 2007. Weir still maintained a respectable record, finishing no lower than 56th on the money list between 2004 and 2009 and going to the distance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs to the Tour Championship in 2008 and 2009.

The injuries began to mount. His neck hampered his game in 2005, followed by two injuries to his right elbow that came from hitting shots in competition.

This season, Weir had made only 2-of-8 cuts before qualifying for the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Then he aggravated a rib injury in the third round and had to withdraw.

Since 2011, he’s made only 5-of-37 cuts.

Mattiace injured both knees during a fall while skiing in December 2003. He exhausted his PGA Tour eligibility for his two 2002 victories after a 2006 season in which he finished 226th on the money list. Since 2007, he’s played 34 times on the PGA Tour and 77 on the Web.com Tour (formerly the Nationwide Tour), and he’s made only 25 cuts.

His playoff loss to Weir was the last time Mattiace finished among the top 10 on the PGA Tour.

Both keep battling

Weir and Mattiace say they have reason for optimism.

Mattiace was in contention at the Web.com Panama Open in February before finishing in a tie for fourth – his first top-10 finish in 206 professional starts.

“I’m feeling great and I still have the passion,” Mattiace said. “What’s happened drives me harder. I’m still committed to this game 100 percent.”

Weir made two of his cuts this season at top-drawer PGA Tour events at Torrey Pines and Bay Hill, and has shot in the 60s in the first round in three of his eight starts. His rib injury in Orlando set him back slightly, but he plans to play this week at Augusta National.

“If I have to not hit any balls until Thursday, I won’t,” he said. “Maybe just putt a little bit. I really want to play. I know I’m going to be there.”

Because Mattiace lost his exempt status six years ago, he and Weir haven’t often crossed paths.

“Maybe three times,” Mattiace said.

Still, they have maintained a mutual admiration for each other.

Mike is a great player and an intense competitor,” Mattiace said. “He’ll be back.”

Weir also is hoping for the best for Mattiace.

“Len is a great guy, and he’s dealt with some injuries himself,” he said. “I know I felt for him that day. Even given the celebration of the moment for me, I still felt for him.”


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