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Len Ziehm On Golf

Ex-Masters champ Weir fits right in with the young Web.com Tour stars

Former Masters champions don’t usually play in Web.com Tour events like this week’s Rust-Oleum Championship at Ivanhoe Club. Mike Weir, the Canadian left-handed golfer who won the 2003 Masters, made it a point of coming this year, however, and Friday he was glad he did.

“Other than the Canadian Open I probably won’t play in any more PGA Tour events,’’ said Weir. “I would have probably gotten into Memphis (the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic) this week, but I wanted to come here.’’

His first round on Thursday was nothing special, a 1-under-par 71, but Weir climbed the leaderboard in a hurry on Friday after posting a 5-under 67. Weir’s 6-under 138 total left him six strokes behind leader Maverick McNealy midway through the $600,000 championship.

McNealy shot the low round of the tournament so far – a 64 – on Friday. His leading challengers include Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger, who is tied for fourth and four shots back after his 66 in the second round. None of the finalists, though, are as intriguing as the veteran Weir, who has played only sparingly – and without much success – the last few years.

“I played a lot better today,’’ said Weir. “Yesterday I just didn’t hit enough fairways. Today I hit every fairway. That was the key to the round.’’

Weir, 47, got into the field at Ivanhoe on a special exemption saved for players nearing their eligibility for PGA Tour Champions – the 50-and-over circuit. The closer to 50 a former major champion is, the more opportunities he’ll have on the PGA’s alternative circuit.

“I’m still a couple years away. I haven’t played a lot of golf in the last couple of years, but I want to stay sharp and I still love to compete,’’ said Weir. “I turn 48 next May. Then I can play a more full schedule on theWeeb.com. That would be the goal if I don’t get my card.’’

Weir, who has won $27 million in PGA Tour events, played in only four tournaments on the premier circuit this year, missing the cut in three and finishing tied for 73rd in the Domincan Republic in March.

That’s a long way from his status in the game just a few years ago. Weir was ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings for 110 weeks between 2001 and 2005. He won eight times during his years on the PGA Tour, the last coming at the 2007 Fry’s Electronics Open, but his play tailed off after he suffered a torn ligament in his right elbow in 2010.

“I had some tough years when I was battling through injuries from 2010 through 2015,’’ said Weir. “That was a difficult time for me, but the last couple of years it’s been pretty easy. I’m enjoying being around these young guys. I’m enjoying my golf a lot more than I ever have.’’

Especially on Friday, when his round included seven birdies.

“Today is progress,’’ said Weir. “That’s a good sign. My mindset is to get out here and compete. I can still find my way around a golf course, and when I’m out here I want to win, so it’s nice to be in the mix here.’’

Weir isn’t the only former major champion in the field at Ivanhoe. Shaun Micheel, who won the PGA Championship in 2003, is just two strokes behind Weir and was well under the cut line of 3-under-par 141 through the first two rounds.

More than anything, though, the Rust-Oleum Championship is a place to help young stars work their way onto the PGA Tour, and Hopfinger improved his case for cracking the top 25 on the Web.com money list. The top 25 at season’s end get PGA Tour cards. Hopfinger was No. 38 at the start of the week but will move up significantly if he continues his second-round play in the weekend rounds.

Hopfinger will have company from three other Chicago players in the final 36 holes. Northbrook’s Nick Hardy, making his professional debut, climbed 57 places into a tie for 22nd after shooting a 67 on Friday.

Scott Langley, another former University of Illinois golfer who is No. 2 on the Web.com Tour’s season money list, and Deerfield’s Vince India, who got into the field as a sponsor’s exemption, also made the cut.