Mike Weir's annus horribilis is over.
The question remains how much the Canadian lefty from Bright's Grove, Ont., will bounce back after what was his most trying year on the PGA Tour.
An elbow injury and poor form before he got hurt contributed to a 2010 season in which the 40-year-old faded from view on the PGA Tour money list (151st) and in the official World Golf Ranking (177th).
"In hindsight, the injury was tough," said Weir, in reference to the forced three-month recovery time. "It was real tough to sit out.
"But recovery has gone well and I'm ready to go … I still get the occasional soreness in [the elbow], but there is no [sustained] pain. I don't have any reservations about hitting the ball."
Under the complicated formula that the PGA Tour uses to asses injured players' eligibility to maintain regular status, Weir has five events to earn $227,885 US. That translates to one Top-5 finish or a pair of Top 10s.
Historically, three tournaments on his early-season schedule have been among the most lucrative for him. The first, the Bob Hope Classic, teed off Wednesday at two courses in the California desert. Weir won there in 2003 and recorded his lone Top-10 showing (6th) in 2010 at the Hope. In between, he's had a T3 and T5, so, if there are horses for courses, Weir is going to a track where he could be considered a thoroughbred.
“There always seems to be a lot of Canadians at the Bob Hope," Weir said. "I hope I can give them something to cheer about."
Beyond this week, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in suburban Los Angeles lurks in February and he's also won there, taking back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004. In fact, his Hope-Toyota double in 2003 was a harbinger for his Masters win later that spring.
Weir has also played well at Pebble Beach, which takes place the week before Riviera.
“It gives me great confidence to know that I've played well on the west coast," Weir said. "I've won a lot of events on the west coast.
"I would love to get off to a great start. But at the same time, I have to be realistic that I’ve been off for a long time."
If Weir does not earn enough cash in his five tournaments he's allotted, it's not exactly dire straits as he's expected to have enough cache among event sponsors to fill his schedule with sponsors' exemptions. That route, though, can be tricky because he won't be able to pick and choose his schedule.
Weir also holds both a one- and two-year option based on his position on the PGA Tour's career money list, but those exemptions can only be used once in a player's career.
Weir last found himself in this position in the fall of 1998, his rookie season on the PGA Tour. Back then, Weir needed a high finish during the final event to ensure his full playing status for 1999. He missed the mark, but came roaring back later that fall and won the PGA Tour qualifying school.
And it hasn't been all hiccups and giggles, even discounting the rough 2010 season. Weir also endured a difficult 2002 before bouncing back with the tremendous 2003 campaign. An injury-induced rough patch took place in 2005 that Weir put behind him with a solid 2006 season without winning.
Weir's last win on the PGA Tour came in late 2007, a victory that came in the aftermath of his stellar performance at the Presidents Cup held that year in Montreal, where he defeated Tiger Woods in final-day singles action.
Three-plus years aren't an eternity between wins in the context of the ever-more competitive PGA Tour. But his 2007 Fry's Electronics Open victory is also his lone tournament crown since 2004. So in the wider view, Weir is clearly not the player that made him, arguably, Canada's most recognizable athlete for much of the last decade.
Aside from chasing the money target, Weir also needs to climb the world-ranking charts in order to ensure a spot in the other three major championships after the Masters (he holds a lifetime Augusta exemption as a former champion). Automatic qualification is granted to those in the world's Top 50, otherwise he will have to qualify for both the U.S. Open and British Open in order to keep his streak of playing in the majors alive.
He also teed off Wednesday with a new caddie after parting ways with longtime loper Brennan Little, who left to take Sean O'Hair's bag. Weir replaced Little with respected veteran Pete Bender.
During his rookie season and on two other previous occasions, Weir had a tough year, only to bounce back during the following 12 months. Here's a breakdown on Weir's down years and comeback campaigns:
|SEASON||WINS||TOP 10s||MONEY (US)||CUTS MADE|
|1998||0||2||$218,967*||13 of 27|
|1999||1||7||$1,491,139||20 of 30|
|2002||0||0||$843,890||22 of 25|
|2003||3||10||$4,918,910||20 of 21|
|2005||0||2||$1,363,467||14 of 23|
|2006||0||6||$1,883,724||20 of 24|
|2010||0||1||$559,092||11 of 19|
* failed to retain status but regained it by winning the final-stage qualifying tournament