Imagine having the course at Augusta National all to yourself. Former Masters champion Mike Weir didn't have to because that's exactly what happened on the back nine when his playing companion Kevin Na withdrew after nine holes due to an undisclosed illness.
Weir, who plays on the PGA Tour Champions now, had the first tee time on Thursday at The Masters. It was a group of two, while the majority of the field went off in threesomes. So when Na took off after an opening nine of 40, Weir only had his caddie and a rules official with him on the back nine.
After Weir made a delicate six-footer on the 18th for par to close out a round of 72, he and caddie Olly Brett took off their caps, shook hands and walked off the green. Weir kissed his fiance, actress Michelle Money, and headed to scoring.
The first question he was asked when he came to the press area was: 'How does it feel to be the leader In the clubhouse?'
"Pretty good," said Weir, who won the 2003 Masters in a playoff over Len Mattiace. "I played really well today. 72 is a nice score."
Indeed it was, and that score would hold up for quite a while, mostly because the next group was five holes behind. Scott Stallings, who was playing with Vijay Singh (75) and amateur Matthew McClean of Northern Ireland (77) in the next group, also shot even par.
But even though Weir was done an hour ahead of the rest of the field, it wasn't as if he was rushing. In fact, observing one player navigate the course, it looked like Weir might have been grinding even more than usual. The challenge, he said, was not to play too fast.
"I really tried to slow down a little bit and get into a routine," said Weir, who couldn't remember the last time he played by himself in a tour event.
It's not uncommon to see a competitor play alone during the final round when there's an odd number and the groups are going out in twosomes. Usually that player will speed through the round, looking forward to getting home and getting a jump on the following week.
But in this case, Weir still has a whole tournament to look forward to, so he ground out each shot, knowing what he did on Thursday would have a great impact on whether or not he plays the weekend.
At first glance, it might seem like it's easier to play alone, but there are disadvantages. For example, Weir couldn't observe his playing companion's shots to help him gauge the wind on tricky holes like the par-3 12th, for example. "I took extra time on 12," added Weir, who finally settled on an 8-iron, which he stuck close to the hole for a birdie to help offset the bogeys he made on nos. 10 and 12.
He also couldn't see other approach shots and how they reacted on the green, how much they bounced and how quickly they grabbed. And he certainly didn't have the opportunity to watch other putts that might have been on similar lines to his own.
He had to ascertain all of that information by himself and with the help of his caddie. "A four or five-yard difference is everything on this golf course," Weir said. "You just have to make a decision and commit to it."
He wound up making one more birdie when he nearly holed out a 91-yard wedge shot on the par-5 15th, but lipped out for par on the 16th to fall back to even.
As for what Friday will be bring for Weir, it is anyone's guess. As of midday Thursday, he didn't know if he would go out for round two with a Masters marker or be moved to another group. Either way, he was taking it in stride.
"I'll have a good time, no matter who we're playing with."
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Mike has worked in the golf industry for nearly 30 years with full-time staff positions at publications and websites that include PGA Magazine, the Golfweek Group, and GolfChannel.com. He is currently writing for several different sites and magazines and serves as a contributing equipment writer for Golf Monthly, focusing on irons, shoes and the occasional training aid or piece of technical equipment.
Mike has experienced a number of highlights in his career, including covering several Ryder Cups, PGA Championships and the Masters, writing instruction pieces and documenting the best places for golf travel for more than a decade.
Mike carries a 7.6 handicap index and has two hole-in-ones, the most recent coming in February 2022. A resident of Texas for more than 40 years, Mike plays out of Memorial Park Golf Course (home of the Houston Open on the PGA Tour).
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