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Weir is on the slow road back, and thankful for it

If the cashier at a Utah department store recognized Mike Weir, imagine the surprise of seeing the former Masters champion and eight-time PGA Tour winner buying a bag of plastic golf balls.

"No, I don't think I've ever bought those before," Weir said.

It spoke to the severity of pain in his right elbow, where he partially tore tendons a year ago at Hilton Head. Weir tried to play through it the rest of the 2010 season but missed the cut in seven of 10 tournaments and never cracked the top 30 in the other three.

"It was four or five months of poor golf and I shouldn't have been out there," Weir said. "It was kind of a year that was wasted. There's definitely a stubborn side to me, a hockey mentality that I can tough this out. I thought it was bad tendinitis. I was playing every day and it kept getting worse. To play when you're scared to hit the ball is not good."

That's where the plastic golf balls come in.

Weir didn't pick up a club for three months to rest his elbow, and he was eager to get back to work. In the basement of his Utah home, he grabbed a 6-iron to make an easy swing.

"Just the impact of the ball on the tee hurt," Weir said. "I called the doctors and said, 'That hurts.' And they said, 'That's good.' It's scar tissue and I had to break through that."

So he went to the store to buy plastic balls to soften the blow.

"That's how I started my rehab — little dink shots with plastic balls," he said. "After a month of that, I was hitting wedges off the ground."

Weir said he is at 90 percent strength. He can produce any swing, even digging a ball out of the rough without flinching. The Canadian is on a major medical exemption, but has only two tournaments remaining to earn $217,097 for full status the rest of the year.

He is not worried about that. Nor is he worried about a world ranking that has plummeted to No. 214, after ending 2009 at No. 36. This is a Presidents Cup year, and Weir risks being left off the International side for the first time since 1998.

He is not bitter about his lost year. All things considered, Weir feels fortunate.

"I just want to get back," he said. "Honestly, I feel lucky to be playing. When I came back after three months off and was chipping those balls, I thought, 'Wow, this is worst than I thought.' So I feel grateful to be out here. Whether it takes a few months or six months, I feel like I'm on the right track."

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MASTERS FIELD: Through six PGA Tour events this year, four players have earned a spot in the Masters. There are six weeks left before Augusta National again uses the top 50 in the world ranking to issue invitations. Seven PGA Tour events remain where the winner can qualify for the Masters.

Ninety-five eligible players expected to compete at the Masters.

The good news for Augusta National is that everyone currently in the top 50 already is eligible. Depending on how the next seven weeks turn out, the Masters field has a chance to top 100 players for the first time since 1966.

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NEW NO. 1: The LPGA Tour finally gets under way this week in Thailand, and the player to beat is no mystery.

Yani Tseng, the 22-year-old from Taiwan, already has won three majors and was the LPGA Tour player of the year in 2010. She won two tournaments in Australia to rise to No. 1 in the world.

Tseng's goal was to get to No. 1. She just didn't think she would get there before the LPGA season began.

"I still have another 10 months to go," Tseng said. "I just need to be very patient and keep working hard. I still have a lot of things to learn, too."

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O'HAIR'S CUT: Sean O'Hair made his first cut of the year at Pebble Beach, but it's not as if he's off to a slow start.

O'Hair didn't start his season until Phoenix, staying home in Philadelphia as his wife neared her due date. Trevor Ryan was born Jan. 20, giving the O'Hair family — Sean is only 28 — four children.

Plus, the winter was particularly cold. O'Hair hasn't played much golf lately.

"I just wanted to be around the kids, and be around Jackie before the baby was born," O'Hair said.

He finally went down to Florida to get some practice before heading to Phoenix. O'Hair found himself struggling off the tee with the odd snap hook, and found that the parts of his game that should be solid (driving and long irons) have been bad, while his short game has carried him so far.

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COMEDY & MEMORY: Perhaps it was only fitting that Jesper Parnevik's partner at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was comedian Tom Dreesen, a profession Parnevik knows well.

His father, Bo, was one of the most famous comedians in Sweden.

"I asked him if his father was funny at home and he said he really wasn't, which didn't surprise me," Dreesen said. "Most comedians, by nature, are insecure."

Parnevik's favorite memories of his father were on the road in the summer, for that's when they played golf.

"I toured with him in the summer," Parnevik said. "He's the one who got me into golf. He got the golf bug big-time. When he went on summer tours, he only hired musicians and technicians who played golf. And they only did shows by good golf courses. They performed at night, and we played all day."

There was one occasion, however, when young Jesper was too tired to go on.

"He brought me to a show and I got tired," Parnevik said. "I went up on stage and said, 'Daddy, it's time to go home now. I'm tired!' And the crowd went berserk."

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DIVOTS: The PGA Grand Slam of Golf has changed its criteria for alternates. Instead of taking the former major champion with the best record in the 2011 majors, the first alternate will be the defending champion. That would be Ernie Els for this year in Bermuda, provided the Big Easy doesn't qualify by winning a major. ... U.S. Women's Amateur champion Danielle Kang received one of five amateur exemptions to the Kraft Nabisco Championship. The others went to Cydney Clanton, Lisa McCloskey, Kristen Park and Meghan Stasi. The LPGA Tour's first major is March 31 to April 3. ... Lee Trevino, 71, said he will play in the Toshiba Classic on March 11-13 at Newport (Calif.) Country Club. It will be the only official, full-field event he plays this year on the Champions Tour.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: The Dubai Desert Classic, where Tiger Woods tied for 20th, was only the third time in 30 non-PGA Tour events overseas that he finished out of the top 10.

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FINAL WORD: "I really do believe that your game is based a lot on the physical place you were brought up playing golf. ... You'll rarely see somebody with a good golf swing coming from a windy golf course." — Padraig Harrington.

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