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Layoff? Unweary Weir’s winning

After skiing in Utah, Weir takes lead at Mercedes

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KAPALUA, Hawaii — For a guy who spent most of December on the ski slopes of Utah, Mike Weir played like he won the Tour Championship last weekend, not two months ago.

With a new preshot routine, the Draper resident and former BYU standout blistered his drives. He used new irons for the first time in competition and hit them pure. About the only phase of his game that left him uncertain was his putting.

But then, it's hard to gauge that when his birdie putts weren't longer than his shadow.

"When I had a 10-footer, it looked like 30 feet," Weir said after his 10-under 63 on Thursday, giving him a three-stroke lead after one round of the Mercedes Championships.

Weir had 10 birdies, missed five other chances inside 10 feet and never came close to a bogey. It was a masterpiece round, even more impressive considering it was the first official round of the season.

"That was way above my expectations," he said.

Frank Lickliter recovered from hitting into a hazard by holing an 8-iron from 144 yards for birdie on the par-5 15th, and a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole gave him a 7-under 66.

David Duval had his mind on the Rose Bowl and the slopes in Sun Valley that await on Monday, but it was hardly a distraction. He had a 67 to join defending champion Jim Furyk, Cameron Beckman, Scott Verplank and Chris DiMarco.

Tiger Woods had a brilliant approach and a monster putt that helped him made two eagles on the par 5s. He two-putted for birdie on the other par 5, but played the other 15 holes in even par for a 68.

"I thought somebody would shoot 8- or 9-under. Weirsy happened to go lower," Woods said. "That's good for him. He's playing well, and he's going to be tough to catch."

Make that impossible if Weir can produce three more days of that kind of golf.

The 63 tied the Plantation Course record at Kapalua, first set two years ago by Duval in similar conditions — a Kona wind, out of the opposition direction, and not much of it.

It also was the lowest start in the history of the winners-only Mercedes, breaking the mark of 64 last set by Tom Kite in 1985.

Weir capped off his record-tying round by hitting a 7-iron into a stiff breeze on the 18th to within 10 inches of the cup. The crowd in the grandstand went wild. The large group of Canadians who had been watching Weir all day were used to such shots.

So was Beckman, who was paired with Weir. One of nine first-time players in the field, Beckman went out in 32 and was three behind.

"I would hit it to 10 feet and felt like a chop," Beckman joked.

Beckman was no slouch.

He had a bogey-free 67, never missed a green and, like Weir, posted a solid score despite missing several chances inside 10 feet.

He shared something else in common with Weir — both were last-minute entries into the winners-only field.

About 30 minutes before Weir won the Tour Championship in a four-man playoff, Beckman got his first PGA Tour victory at the season-ending Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Mississippi.

Only the scenery has changed.

"I don't feel much different than I did in the last event," Beckman said. "I don't have much to worry about. I can pretty much concentrate on playing golf, and that's nice."

Beckman was best known as having the longest active streak on tour of making in through Q-school — three straight years. His victory gave him a two-year exemption, and brought him to the rugged west coast of Maui.

"I'm not worried about keeping my card, I'm trying to win tournaments," Beckman said. "I'm so much more relaxed."

That's easy to do in Maui, where vistas of the blue-green Pacific are available on just about every hole. Weir hardly looked like he was taking this tournament casually.

Weir birdied the first four holes with putts of 6, 1, 2 and 3 feet. He added a 4-foot birdie on No. 6, a 3-footer on No. 8 and a two-putt birdie from 15 feet on No. 9.

And all he could think about was the three-putt on No. 5 for par.

"I was 8-under through 10 . . . and I was like, 'Wow, could have been that little bit step closer,' " he said. "In a perfect world — which isn't golf — but it could have been ridiculous."

No, golf is not a perfect game.

Maui sure seems like a perfect place to start the year, and Weir looked right at home.