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Mike Weir names Canadian athlete of the year

Golfer Mike Weir, who defeated an elite field to take the Tour Championship and cap a year in which he earned more than $2.7 million, has won the Lionel Conacher Award as Canadian male athlete of the year for the second year in a row.

The left-hander from Bright's Grove, Ont., won the award in one of the closest races in recent years, edging Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic by just two points in balloting conducted by The Canadian Press and Broadcast News.

Sakic actually collected more first-place votes than Weir (39 to 26) but the golfer won on the strength of more second- and third-place votes in the annual survey of sports editors and broadcasters across the country.

Weir had 27 second-place and 26 third-place votes for a total of 158 points while Sakic, with 14 second-place and 11 third-place votes, was runner-up at 156.

In 2001, Sakic won the Stanley Cup, Hart Trophy, Lady Byng, Lester B. Pearson Award and was named a first-team all-star. He also scored 54 goals and added 64 assists to finish second in NHL scoring in the 2000-01 season.

But his athlete of the year campaign may have been hurt by several other top hockey performances in 2001.

And Weir carries the Maple Leaf around the globe for millions of Canadian golfers and sports fans.

Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux, who made a comeback to the game last season, drew 15 first-place votes to finish third at 77 points. Colorado Rockies slugger Larry Walker, the National League batting champion, was fourth with 12 first-place votes and 73 points while Colorado goalie Patrick Roy was fifth with six first-place votes and 55 points.

"Those are obviously some big names," said Weir. "So it's a great honour. Second time in a row is fantastic.

"And those guys I know are very deserving as well, they had great years as well. It's nice I've got to know some of those guys and what great ambassadors they are to their sports."

The award is named after the late Lionel Conacher, a multi-sport star who was voted CP's athlete of the first half of the 20th century.

In 2000, Weir became the first golfer since Sandy Somerville in 1932 to win the award. Now he is the first golfer to win it twice.

Weir, 31, is also the first back-to-back winner of the award since figure skater Kurt Browning in 1990-91.

In typical modesty, Weir said he was "surprised and honoured" by the latest honour.

"I really finished out the year strong. Throughout most of the year, I finished very consistently," he said. "Golf's such a funny game, you can't predict wins but I put myself in position a number of times and it was nice to finally get one at the end of the year.

"Granted there were points that I wasn't happy, but overall it was a very good year."

Weir played 23 tournaments on the PGA Tour in 2001, five less than the year before, and ranked 11th on the money list with $2,777,936. He had six top-10 finishes — including a first, second and third — and made the cut in 20 of 23 events.

In 2000, Weir was sixth on the money list with $2,547,829.

In 2002, he hopes to play around 25 tournaments, including several events overseas.

"I still want to be considered an international player," he said.

While success brings more demands, Weir says golf is still fun.

"As I get older you realize that it is a business, but I still enjoy playing, I still enjoy the competition. That's what really motivates me and motivates me to know there are guys that are still out there beating me, to keep trying to work harder and make myself a little bit better."

The Tour Championship playoff win, which capped an ultra-competitive final round in Houston, was Weir's third win on tour.

"It was an elite field and when you win tournaments like that, especially the way the Tour Champions panned out, it just reinforces your belief system when you're in tough situations you can handle those type of situations," he said.

"To me that's a major championship field, all the guys that were battling there for the tournament had had outstanding years so really I beat the best of the best for 2001 — the best players on the PGA Tour are in the Tour Championship — so it was a big boost of confidence for my game."

Weir also said it was the first tournament he's finished off with a putt to win since his college days. In Vancouver, he two-putted at the Air Canada Championship and at the American Express Championship in Spain he had a three-shot lead going into the last hole.

"I've never had the whole thing come down a to a make or miss putt for me. So to roll in a nice seven- or eight-foot putt downhill to win a tournament was really exciting."

In 2002, Weir wants to be more consistent and to be in contention more often.

"Hopefully a couple more wins will come along with that," he said. "I just feel that if I can just keep improving a few aspects of my game, some of those tournament victories will take care of themselves.

"But obviously everybody gears up for the majors and is hopefully ready to play the majors. That's the same for me. I really want to prepare for those. I didn't do a very good job of that this year so hopefully I can improve on that in 2002."

Weir, who lives in Utah, plans to skip the L.A. Open in February so he can take in some of the Salt Lake Olympics.

"I plan to take in as many hockey games as I can to root on Team Canada and I know my wife wants to see some figure skating and maybe some downhill skiing. So I'm going to try and take in as much as I can in that first week before I go out and start playing again."

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