Weir shows he's still got what it takes

IRVING, Texas -- It was a year ago that Peggy Nelson extended an invitation to Mike Weir that she assumed he'd politely decline.

Peggy, the wife of the late Byron Nelson, didn't have a date to the golf banquet celebrating the state title won by the girls' team at Byron Nelson High School.

"I asked if he wanted to go, and he said sure," Nelson said. "I was surprised. He rode with me there. It was remarkable. He had an afternoon tee time and had to get up for a 7 a.m. tee time on Friday and still came. He's such a nice guy."

That's Mike Weir.

When asked about it, Weir said he owed a lot to Byron and Peggy and talked about how hard she works at the tournament. He even complimented her chocolate chip and walnut cookies too.

Again, that's Mike Weir.

It's why it seemed like nearly everyone who travels this golf circuit was pulling for him on Sunday. They all seem to have a story about something kind Weir did for them.

Weir asked to hold off on doing interviews after making a run for his first tournament win in seven years, so that he could properly congratulate winner Brendon Todd on his first PGA Tour victory.

Todd used some magic shots to secure the victory. He holed out of a bunker on the par-3 second for birdie. He made a terrific par save from 14 feet on No. 17 and he channeled his inner Weir by swinging left-handed, using the back end of a 4-iron just off the green to chip it close on 13 and avoid bogey.

But Weir made Todd sweat until the end, something the 44-year-old veteran (he celebrated his birthday on Monday by traveling through the storms from Florida to get to Texas) had forgotten he could do. He shot 67 on Sunday and ended up 2 shots back of Todd, who carded a bogey-free 66 in windy conditions.

"No doubt about it, I was nervous -- for sure I was," Weir admitted. "I hadn't been there in a long time."

How could he not be nervous? In many ways, Weir's job was on the line Sunday at TPC Four Seasons Resort & Club Las Colinas. The 2003 Masters winner is competing this season on his last full exemption -- using his one-time top-50 in career earnings status to play. It means he has to finish in the top 125 in FedEx Cup points to earn full exemption on tour for next season.

Sunday's solo runner-up finish moves him to 87th on that list, making it likely that he can control his own schedule next season.

Weir's journey to his finish at the Nelson is one of perseverance. Weir hit a root making a swing at Hilton Head in 2010 and partially tore ligaments in his right elbow. By trying to play through the pain, he actually made it worse. Rest ended up solving the problem, but Weir's hesitance to make full swings and attack the ball with the injured elbow created bad habits.

"The pattern I developed with not hitting the ground was poor," said Weir, who acknowledges that he probably returned to the PGA Tour too soon, before he was fully healthy. "That's been a hard cycle to get out of."

He missed 18 consecutive cuts in the next three seasons as he tried to find the game that led to his memorable Masters win more than a decade ago, one that was getting further and further away in the rearview mirror.

A green jacket changes a golfer's career. He knows that he can play Augusta National for the rest of his competitive life. It gets you full status on tour and in the majors for the next five years. And it offers plenty of residual benefits, including sponsor's exemptions if you need them. Weir was a hero in Canada after that win. He still is and is a big ambassador for the game north of the border.

But what a green jacket can't do is act as a GPS, locating a missing golf game. Weir's was long gone and he wondered if he'd ever see it again.

"I had doubts about that," Weir said. "It's not fun to play poor golf. I love the sport. I love to compete and when you're doing something you love poorly, it makes it difficult."

Weir didn't give up. Maybe that's because it took him seven years out of college to even make the PGA Tour. Or that he's a veteran at missing cuts all over the world, something he takes in stride.

"I knew I could dig deep within myself to pull myself out of things," Weir said. "This has taken a long time and it's only one week, but this week was great and very satisfying."

It was pleasing for his caddie, Danny Sahl, too. Sahl has watched as Weir put in all the work on the range, altered his mental state so that he could trust that the elbow wasn't going to go out on him again and how he refused to give up.

"He basically let it happen," Sahl said. "He earned this. He's been playing well for weeks. I could see this coming."

Few others could. Weir's best finish in 11 previous Nelsons was a tie for 11th in 2001. He didn't make the cut in six of his Nelson attempts. But it all came together this weekend outside Dallas. Weir saved his best for Sunday, burning the edges on a few putts that might have put him in position to get that first win since 2007.

Just don't expect Weir to spend a lot of time thinking about what happened the past four years to get him into contention again.

"I think I'm here now and pushing forward," Weir said. "I'm not going to reflect on the past. That's history now and I'm playing good golf. I want to keep that going now."

That's Mike Weir.