Canadian Mike Weir, teeing off at No. 11 at Royal Montreal Golf Club, commands Tiger-esque galleries. Column: At Presidents Cup, Mike Weir feeling the jolt of a home crowd at Royal Montreal

MONTREAL - When Mike Weir shocked the world and won the 2003 Masters, you and the rest of the golfing world uttered something like, "Mike who?"

That refrain has pretty much followed Weir around in the nearly five years since; he's only won once on the PGA Tour since: The 2004 Nissan Open.

Well, no one here at Royal Montreal Golf Club is asking that this week.

Weir, 37, a native of Sarnia, Ontario, is a gallery draw to rival Tiger Woods at this week's Presidents Cup, the hometown favorite (though from a different province) and unquestionably the Canada's best golfer.

"There's Mike, there's Mike," said David Qualey, who drove up from outside Toronto with his friend, Allen Donald.

Weir was making his way up the 10th fairway.

How famous is Weir in Canada?

"He's huge, and it's great that he can be playing in this event, in his home country," Donald said.

Sophia Benoit, a Montreal resident, took Friday off from her banking job to follow Weir. "It's a big deal for us, really. We feel proud," she said. "It's a chance to come out and support another Canadian."

Of course, the PGA Tour folks know that Weir, once obscure, is a big story here this week; Every day media arrive at their desks to a "Mike Weir quotes" print-out from the day before.

In many respects, Weir deserves this time in the sun. Playing in his fourth Presidents Cup now, he's long been a supporter of international team golf and for years has lobbied PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem to bring the Presidents Cup to Canada.

"To finally have this week upon us is pretty special," Weir said. "As a fan of golf and golf in this country and wanting golf in this country to grow in popularity as a fan, as well, I'm excited for that."

Weir's had a mixed record in past Presidents Cup: 3-3 in foursomes, 3-2 in four-balls and 2-1 in singles.

But this week it's been another matter. So far, Weir has not lost a match. On Thursday, a day of American domination, he hung in down the stretch with teammate Vijay SIngh and squeezed out a half point against Woody Austin and Phil Mickelson - the International team's lone bright spot on the day. (However, that half point was controversial, since American Captain Jack Nicklaus called on Mickelson and Austin to concede Singh's four-footer. Nicklaus cited deference to Weir when making the decision.)

Friday, Weir teamed up with Ernie Els in a four-ball match against Americans Zach Johnson and and Charles Howell III - and carded six birdies as he and Els went on to beat Howell III and Johnson 3 and 1.

The reception Weir received walking up the 17th recalled his walk up the 18th at Augusta National four years ago. With Howell III and Johnson holding on, Weir stuck a nine iron to within six feet on the par-3. When Johnson missed his birdie putt, the Americans' conceded.

"I really feel the support of the fans," Weir said, after the round. "It's really inspiring my game this week."

For now, I think the Weir hype has been pretty balanced. It's a natural story, and one that could unfold further into the weekend. Already there is buzz going around Royal Montreal that International Team Captain Gary Player, in a nod to Weir's local support, will put the Canadian head-to-head against Tiger Woods in Sunday's singles.

Look for that to happen, especially if Weir keeps playing the way he's been the first two days of this Cup.

"I'd love the chance to play him," Weir said. "It might be icing on the cake for me to get a chance to get in there and possibly beat him."

September 29, 2007

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