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Weir staves off disaster with big chip on 18

LOS ANGELES -- Mike Weir went to bed thinking about all the
history at Riviera, the venerable course off Sunset Boulevard where
Ben Hogan won four times and Arnold Palmer won over the galleries.

The last thing he needed Sunday was history to repeat itself.

A year ago, Weir came from seven shots behind on the final day
to win in a playoff.

This time, the gritty Canadian had a seven-shot lead early in
the final round, only to see it vanish with a couple of bogeys and
a furious rally byShigeki Maruyama.

"I wasn't playing that bad," Weir said. "He was just going
all out."

Weir didn't let it get away without a fight.

From the side of a grassy hill above the 18th green, Weir saved
par by nearly holing the 45-foot chip, giving him a one-shot
victory over Maruyama and making him the first back-to-back winner
at the Nissan Open since Corey Pavin in 1994-95.

"You have to dig deep," Weir said. "I was able to do that."

He couldn't have done that without a short game, which was
responsible for Weir building such a commanding lead, and
eventually spared him an infamous collapse.

The 475-yard 18th, one of golf's great closing holes with the
clubhouse perched high in the background, was playing even more
difficult because of a hard, steady rain that greeted the final
group right when Maruyama tied for the lead with a birdie on the
16th hole.

Maruyama, no fan of the rain, tried to hammer a driver and sent
it into the right rough, leaving him no chance to reach the green.
A fairway metal came up short, and his 50-yard chip went 12 feet by
the hole.

Weir split the middle, but his approach from 205 yards sailed
into the hill.

The rain might have helped on this difficult chip, because the
green was soft enough that Weir could land the ball on the putting
surface without it racing by the hole. He picked a dark patch of
grass 4 feet beyond the fringe, and couldn't believe it when the
ball rippled over the right edge.

"I was determined to chip it in," Weir said.

He settled for a tap-in par, closing with an even-par 71 for his
seventh career victory. Weir finished at 17-under 267 and earned
$864,000.

"My short game really held me in there this week, and I made a
lot of key up-and-downs," Weir said. "It was probably fitting
that I got it up-and-down to win."

It was a noble effort by Maruyama, the engaging star from Japan
who has a membership at Riviera but still prefers golf be played in
warm weather and sunshine.

His comeback was stunning, particularly the 3-iron from 211
yards that stopped 20 inches from the hole on No. 15 for a birdie
that cut his deficit to one. And the 6-iron into 10 feet on No. 16
that followed.

Then it rained, and Maruyama paced himself.

"If I start walking slowly, maybe the rain is going to stop,"
he said. "Because I hate to play in the rain."

He made his only bogey in a round of 67 when he could least
afford it, on the final hole. His 12-footer for par slid by the
right side of the cup.

"I start practicing in the shower tonight," Maruyama said.

Stuart Appleby got within three shots of the lead on the back
nine, but finished with six straight pars for 66 and was three
shots back.

John Daly, coming off his first PGA Tour victory in nine years,
made six birdies on his final 12 holes for a 67 and finished
fourth. He had only two top 10s last year, and this will allow him
to climb even higher in the world rankings as he tries to get into
the Masters.

Tiger Woods is 0-for-6 as a professional at Riviera, the only
PGA Tour course he has played so often without winning. For the
second straight year, he saved his best round for when it didn't
matter -- a career-best 64 at Riviera that moved him up 37 spots
into a tie for seventh.

"You have to play good for all four days, and I haven't done
that," Woods said.

Weir started the round with a five-shot lead, although it sure
didn't look that way. He was grinding from the first hole, playing
as if he was tied for the lead coming down the 18th.

No one guessed it would come down to that.

Weir's lead was still five when he had 95 yards to the hole at
No. 10. The wind fooled him, he wound up in a bunker and took
bogey, a two-shot swing when Maruyama holed a 10-foot birdie putt.

Weir eventually lost the last of his lead, but never lost hope.

"If you'd have told me at the beginning of the week I'd be tied
on the 17th hole, I'd be happy with that," Weir said. "It wasn't
maybe what I was expecting at the beginning of the day, but that's
the reality now. I just needed to bear down a little bit."

He wanted to prove he could win with a lead. Weir won his
previous six PGA Tour events from behind, and was 0-for-5 with at
least a share of the 54-hole lead.

When it was over, it felt like another comeback.

Notes
There was so much rain overnight that the second green was
covered with earthworms. Players were allowed to lift, clean and
place their balls. ... Jay Williamson played with Woods and matched
his 64 to tie for seventh. ''I couldn't shake him,'' Williamson
joked. The highlight of his day came on No. 6, when his tee shot
dropped 3 inches right of the cup and spun two inches to the left.