Mike Weir became the first Canadian golfer to win a Major Championship title when he beat American Len Mattiace at the first play-off hole to claim the 67th Masters Tournament after an enthralling final day at Augusta National.
The duo had tied on seven under par 281 at the end of regulation play, Weir carding a 68 while Mattiace stormed through the field with a superb closing 65, as Phil Mickelson took third for the third year running on 283, Jim Furyk claimed fourth on 284 and Jeff Maggert finished fifth on 286.
With both players in the centre of the fairway from the tee on the first play-off hole, the 495 yard tenth, Mattiace opened the door for Weir when he pulled his approach shot left of the green into the woods.
The 35 year old, who missed the cut in his only previous Masters appearance in 1988 and whose best finish in a Major was tied 24th in the 1997 US Open Championship, had to hope for good luck but got exactly the reverse as he found a tree directly in his line to the green.
With Weir on the front edge of the putting surface in two, Mattiace’s escape shot flew across the green from where he three putted for a six, leaving the Canadian the luxury of three putts for a bogey five and the title.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” admitted Weir, who won the WGC – American Express Championship on The European Tour in 2000. “I’ve dreamt of this for a long time and worked hard to achieve it, but now that it has actually happened, I am finding difficulty putting into words exactly how happy I am.”
Although they did not lay claim to the Green Jacket, it also proved another excellent week in Georgia for the strong European Tour contingent which numbered 24 at the outset. Darren Clarke held the first round lead with a 66 and was still high on the leaderboard at the halfway stage as a dozen Members made the cut.
In the end, Ernie Els and the 2000 champion Vijay Singh proved the pick of the seven European Tour Members who finished in the top 20, the South African closing with a 69 to the Fijian’s 73 for a one under par total of 287 and a share of sixth place.
For a spell it looked like Els was in the mood for a charge when he birdied the sixth, eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 34 and one under par for the tournament. But a bogey at the 11th halted his momentum and although he birdied the 13th, he reigning Open Golf champion could make no further impression.
For a spell Singh was even closer to his second Green Jacket after he made a mockery of the dangers of Amen Corner with birdies at both the tenth and 11th holes to move to four under par for the tournament and within touching distance of the lead.
But Augusta National got its own back on the Fijian at the 12th when he found the bunker at the back of the green from the teen before proceeding to miss a short putt for par and further bogeys at the 13th and 15th ended his challenge.
Next best of the European Tour contingent was the two time champion José Maria Olazábal, who matched Singh’s 73 for a share of eighth place on level par 288, debutant Tim Clark and Retief Goosen finished in a tie for 13th on one over par 289 while Angel Cabrera and Paul Lawrie shared 15th on two over par 290.
But the final day was all about Weir, who became the first left-handed golfer to win the Masters Tournament and only the second left-handed golfer to win a Major Championship, the first being Bob Charles in the 1963 Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
On a day where mistakes abounded, he was the only one of the leading contenders not to drop a stroke in regulation play. He started the day in second place behind Maggert at three under par before birdies at the second, sixth, 13th and 15th propelled him to pole position.
However, perhaps the most important putt of the day came at the 72nd, where he had to hole a testing six footer for par to book his place in the play-off against Mattiace who had finished some 45 minutes earlier.
Mattiace, who was looking to buck the trend of the last 12 Masters Tournaments which have seen the winner emerge from the final pairing, lit up Augusta National with some superb golf, notching eight birdies in 17 holes before he, crucially, dropped a shot at the last after pushing his drive into the trees.
Errors were common throughout the day however as the tension rose, third round leader Maggert a prime example. The 39 year old Texan picked up two penalty strokes on his way to a triple bogey seven at the third when his ball struck him in a bunker, and then found the water twice on the short 12th to run up a quintuple bogey eight.
But the biggest surprise for the huge galleries was the fact that the expected charge from World Number One Tiger Woods, only four shots off the lead at the start of the day, failed to materialise.
It looked good for the 27 year old when he birdied the second but a decision to take driver on the short par four third proved disasterous when he pushed his drive into the trees on his way to a double bogey six and he never recovered, a final round 75 seeing him share 15th place on two over par 290.
Further down the leaderboard, the finishing totals of other European Tour Members to make the cut were; 289 – Tim Clark and Retief Goosen, 290 – Angel Cabrera and Paul Lawrie, 293 – Adam Scott, 294 – Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia, 295 – Nick Faldo, and 297 – Justin Rose.