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Mike Weir returns to action again

Heads turned when Mike Weir walked through a small crowd of players in the locker room and sat down for lunch after his pro-am round Wednesday at the Wachovia Championship.

Winning the Masters comes with instant celebrity, even among peers.

"There's a lot of appreciation from guys who have won a major and know what an accomplishment it is," Davis Love III said. "Guys that haven't won ... even more, because they want to win one. That's a big part of winning. Players are excited for you."

Life has changed for Weir.

A street will be named after him near his house in Draper, Utah. He dropped a ceremonial puck in Toronto and received an autographed NBA basketball from the Utah Jazz. He already was a big star in Canada, and some are asking if he's as big as Wayne Gretzky.

The biggest difference is how he is perceived as a golfer.

Weir was regarded as a solid player, having won five times on the PGA Tour, including showcase titles at the Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship.

Then he won the Masters in a playoff over Len Mattiace.

Does that make him a great player?

"I'm getting there," Weir said. "I think I was probably considered a good player, but I never considered anybody who has not won a major a great player. Maybe I'm turning into a much better player, a great player."

The next stop is Thursday at Quail Hollow Club, his first tournament as the Masters champion and the first PGA Tour event for Charlotte since the Kemper Open left in 1979.

The Wachovia Championship is the first new PGA Tour event to debut in the spring since the Memorial in 1976. Even without Tiger Woods, who decided to take another week off, this has all the trappings of a marquee event.

It starts with a $5.6 million purse. Only the four majors, three World Golf Championships, The Players Championship and Tour Championship offer more money.

Players can choose between one of two Mercedes-Benz as courtesy cars, and if they get stuck in traffic, they have a hot line to call for a police escort.

The biggest perk of all might have been the Wednesday pro-am, which featured only two amateur partners instead of four. Justin Leonard played his first three holes in 22 minutes, and most groups finished in just under four hours.

David Duval was asked the last time he played in a threesome on Wednesday.

"Back home with a couple of friends," he said.

Jay Haas, Peter Jacobsen and Curtis Strange are the only players who played in the 1979 Kemper Open at Quail Hollow, although everyone else should catch on quickly.

This is a traditional golf course, with fairways carved through trees, subtle changes in elevations and no gimmicks.

"They could hold a U.S. Open here easily," Charles Howell III said.

The U.S. Open is next month at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, and Weir is already looking ahead. After all, he's the only player capable of winning the Grand Slam this year.

"It would be difficult, but I don't see why not," Weir said. "I'm capable of winning every tournament, but to win every tournament, or the four majors, would be very difficult. I'm not saying it's out of the realm of possibility."

It sure seemed that way two months ago, when Weir was not even mentioned among the top contenders in any major. In fact, he was still trying to make it through Q-School in 1998.

Now, he is a major champion.

"There's a perception of being a member of a different club when you're a major winner," said Love, who won the PGA Championship at Winged Foot in 1997.

Love had won 10 times before he got his major. Duval had won a dozen times on the PGA Tour when he captured his first major at the British Open.

"It doesn't do anything for you physically on the golf course to make you a better player, but it makes you perceived differently," Duval said.

"I equate it to when people said that I finished second a lot but could never win. Then I won, and everyone said, 'Well, he had finished second a lot of times.' Mike won some big tournaments but not a major. Then he won a major, and everyone looks at the fact that he had won some big tournaments."

Weir already has won three times this year, same as Love and Woods.

He is trailing Love by about $460,000 on the money list, although Weir and Love are ahead of Woods. It's the first time Woods hasn't been No. 1 in the money this deep into the season since 2000.

"I'm in a unique position that I have a chance to be player of the year," Weir said. "There are three or four guys who have really jumped off to a great start and have a chance to move forward and capture that. I'm still motivated to keep playing well."

 

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