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Despite the rain, Weir cruising in the Nissan

By Wire services
Published February 22, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Mike Weir would seem to be the last guy at Riviera with something to prove.

He has his portrait hanging in the clubhouse from winning the Nissan Open last year. He has a green jacket in his closet as the Masters champion. His 5-under 66, a masterful performance in cold, rainy conditions Saturday, gave him a five-shot lead and broke the 54-hole tournament record.

Even so, Weir knows better than to look ahead.

"I'm looking at it as a big challenge," Weir said. "I want to prove to myself that I can handle a five-shot lead."

He has built a reputation as the comeback Canadian, winning all six of his PGA Tour titles from off the lead.

The challenge today is to win for the first time out front.

His final-round scoring average with at least a share of the lead is 73.6.

At least he has some room for error.

Weir separated himself from John Daly and the rest of the pack with one swing - a 4-iron into 15 feet on the devilish par-3 sixth hole - then turned it into a runaway.

He finished at 17-under 196, breaking by one shot the 54-hole record set by Fred Couples in 1992.

Shigeki Maruyama, who started the third round tied with Weir, stayed in range until bogeys on both par 3s on the back nine. A birdie on the final hole gave him par 71, five shots behind.

Jeff Maggert had 69 - his third straight round in the 60s - and was at 11-under 202.

"I didn't expect to shoot 5 under," Weir said. "But my putter has just been on fire."

Fans took their hands off umbrellas long enough to clap and cheer Daly, but it couldn't sustain him. Daly missed several short birdie opportunities and shot 72, leaving him eight off the lead.

Daly was in the hunt, along with so many others, until the third round took shape on the sixth hole.

Daly was one shot behind when he came up short, his chip rolled back down the ridge and he three-putted for double bogey. Briny Baird was tied for the lead at 12 under, but found the middle of the green - the bunker - and made bogey.

In the next and final group, Scott McCarron hit so far left that his ball bounced off a concessions tent. He chipped past the hole and nearly into the bunker, having to stand in the sand and grip the club on its shaft to play his next shot. He holed a 7-footer for bogey. Maruyama went off a tree, chipped over the green and also had to get up-and-down for bogey.

No one got any closer than two shots to Weir the rest of the day.

Weir saved par with a 15-foot putt from the fringe on No. 9, and after a sand wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 10th, he got away with one of his few bad swings. His second shot on the par-5 11th squirted to the right and hit the trees, dropping into the thick rough of a ditch. He slugged it out to 20 feet and walked off with another birdie, keeping a comfortable margin on Maruyama.

For Tiger Woods, it was another lost cause at Riviera.

This is the only PGA Tour course he has played at least five times without winning, and this year will only add to that streak. Woods again squandered shots and managed only 1-over 72, leaving him 14 shots behind. He left Riviera without speaking to reporters.

McCarron finished with 72 and was at 10-under 203, followed by Daly, Baird (73), Loren Roberts (69) and Stuart Appleby (70).

EUROPEAN PGA: In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Finland's Mikko Ilonen finished his second round with 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead over South Korean Lee Sung-man and Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant in the Malaysian Open, which was interrupted by rain for the second straight day. Paul McGinley of Ireland and American Greg Hanrahan were two strokes back. Colin Montgomerie was three back. Two rounds likely will be played today.

NATIONWIDE TOUR: In Adelaide, Australia, Euan Walters shot 1-under-par 70 to take a one-shot lead after the third round of the Jacob's Creek Open over fellow Australians Mathew Goggin (66), Matthew Ecob (69) and Anthony Painter (72).

[Last modified February 22, 2004, 01:45:26]

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