The two unlikely sudden-death playoff opponents in the 2003 Masters Tournament were at the center of the golf world when they walked onto the 10th tee of the Augusta National Golf Club late on a Sunday afternoon to settle the issue with a 73rd hole.
Minutes later, it was Mike Weir who 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 winner of the Masters and the first Canadian to win a major.
While Weir was getting his green jacket slipped over his shoulders a few minutes later by Tiger Woods, Mattiace was choking back sobs in front of the media, 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 today.
“It was a great week for me,” the 45-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., resident said recently on the 10th anniversary of his near miss. “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 players of that time, such as Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Davis Love III. Weir’s victory at Augusta was his third of the season and he eventually would end 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. The short answer for both is that injuries led to swing problems, which led to dips in confidence. Neither player 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.”
“[I’m] just trying to find a way to make things more consistent … play my kind of game, which is precision golf,” Weir said. “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, including the World Golf Championship-Match Play and an 11-shot victory at Bay Hill, playing the final round in steady rain and with a stomach virus. He was going for his third consecutive Masters title, an unprecedented feat at Augusta.
The Augusta National had already 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, and the game’s other bombers of the day.