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Mike Weir is at ease with all facets of his game these days. (Warren Little/Getty Images)
Mike Weir is at ease with all facets of his game these days. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Best-of-the-day 68 proves Weir is back in a big way

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Mike Weir has been working extra-hard on his game, and the results of his effort were evident Friday as he zoomed into a tie for third place. He's eager for the weekend and, as a former major champion, knows he has what it takes to win.

Melanie Hauser, Contributor

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- He had his 60-degree wedge in his hand when he saw the line. And the wind.

So Mike Weir traded off, grabbed his 53-degree wedge, flipped the ball out of the sand and watched it head straight at the hole. All it had to do was tip ever-so slightly and wobble in.

It didn't. But Weir wasn't complaining. He tapped in for par and walked off Carnoustie Golf Links with Friday's low round -- a 68 that honestly felt a whole lot lower.

"It felt lower than making only three birdies," said Weir, one of the best bunker players in the game. "It felt more like a 65. But I'll take 68."

And run with it.

On a day when the wind whipped off the North Sea and sent scores soaring at Carnoustie, Weir was in control. Of his putter. Of his irons. Of his game, period.

While Tiger Woods struggled and Phil Mickelson fell so far back he missed the cut, Weir put himself into contention at this 136th Open Championship. His 68 backed up an opening 71 as he settled in three shots behind leader Sergio Garcia going into the weekend.

"It feels great because I've worked my butt off the last eight months," Weir said. "I've felt that good things are happening, but now I'm finally seeing good things happening."

Very good things. Another major-in-this-sight kind of things.

Has it really been nearly three years since Weir won the 2004 Nissan Open? Indeed it has. Which is why he's been working overtime. Which, in turn, is why he's on our minds here.

Weir is hitting it so solid, the wind can't budge it. Give or take a couple of so-so shots on the front nine -- "I really need to work on my game plan for 2 through 5 tonight," he said -- he wasn't affected the way some players were.

"If you do that in these conditions that makes a big difference," he said. "If you mis-hit it, the wind really takes the ball, but I was hitting it very solid. I was really pleased with the back nine."

Ironically, that's when the wind really whipped.

"You could feel it on 9, how it really started to pick up," Weir said. "It was starting to clear up and then that wind started to pick up. And 9, the last three hours there it was very hard and a heavy wind."

All Weir did was shoot 32 on that nine. And 33 there Thursday.

Now, if he could only get rid of the early-round blips.

"I birdied No. 1 again and found ... today I found two fairway bunkers again," Weir said. "And those are like penalty shots, I had to pitch those out. I've got to hopefully stay out of that. Hopefully, I can eliminate that in the next couple of days."

Weir is at ease this week. He's ready for anything and everything at Carnoustie, where he played his first Open in 1999. Shot an opening-round 83 -- most of it came on 12 where "I made 8 or 9" -- then fought back to shoot 71 and make the cut on the number.

"That was big for me back then," he said. "I had qualified for the U.S. Open and this was my second major. I remember not giving up. I teed off at 3:45 or 4:00 p.m. and birdied 16 and 17 and parred 18 to make the cut."

He tied for 37th and shot an incredible 72 in the third round when the weather turned really ugly.

So consider him ready for anything Mother Nature throws at the field in the next 48 hours. And that could be considerable.

"It's not good for anybody, but I think if you have the right mentality going into it and you know coming over here just by packing what you're throwing in your suitcase with what you can get over here, you can get the sun or you can have your ski gear on underneath," he said. "So you've just got to be prepared for it."

Weir is that. And more.

His hard work has left him pain-free. No upper back issues. No neck issues. Plus, he's been able to work harder and his swing has gotten so much more efficient.

And now? Well, the one problem was putting and that has come around. Big time. He's putting so well, even his misses are running right over the edge.

Yes, he missed a few early -- at the fourth and eighth, notably -- but he made a great save at the ninth from seven feet and a 25-footer for birdie at the 10th.

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Weir gave himself a chance here in 1999, but back then he was an unknown quantity. A young up-and-comer. Not the player who won three times, including the Masters, in 2003. And definitely not the player who has battled back from a slump.

He's longer, stronger and more consistent now. And, in case you didn't notice, the lowest player on the board with a major to his credit. Yes, Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champ, is a shot back and U.S. Open champs Retief Goosen and Angel Cabrera are just five off the pace.

And, yes, Weir said, that major can make a difference.

"I don't think you overestimate it," he said. "I've heard Tiger say it many times, and reiterate what he said, that until you've done it you don't know you can do it. You think you can do it, but until you do it you don't know that.

"When you have that in your back pocket in the last nine holes of a major, it's like extra ammo. You really know that you can get it done. Whether you can do it or not is a different story, but you've done it before and that gives you kind of an extra edge."

So, we must add, does a game as solid as Weir's right now.

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