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Rubenstein: Northern Trust Open snubs Weir

Mike Weir will return to the PGA Tour Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after a seven-month absence. But the 2003 Masters champion who underwent elbow surgery last August won't play next week in the Northern Trust Open, which he won in 2003 and 2004, because he wasn't given one of eight exemptions that the tournament sponsor can use.

Weir, who will turn 42 in May, was both surprised and disappointed when he learned the bad news. He is not only a fairly recent two-time winner, but he's a student of, and loves, the classic Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. He has said so publicly. Weir appreciates it so much that Ian Andrew, his design partner, made a special trip there to study it with Weir.

"It's hard to believe that a two-time champion, and within the last nine years, would not be given an exemption," Bill Paul, the RBC Canadian Open's tournament director, said Wednesday. "I am not saying that as a Canadian. I know there are tough choices, but he is a former champion. I don't know of too many tournaments that would reject a former champ. Oh well, maybe they have other reasons."

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Weir did not want to comment on his not receiving an exemption, probably because he doesn't want to jeopardize his chance of getting sponsors' invitations into other tournaments if he needs them. Mike Bone, the Northern Trust Open's general manager, responded to an inquiry from The Globe and Mail about why Weir wasn't issued an exemption. He chose to provide a statement through the PGA Tour rather than agree to a request for an interview.

"Mike Weir is a tremendous competitor, and, as you point out, he has a great record at the Northern Trust Open, with back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2004," Bone said. "We have nothing but respect for him as a player and a person and are so happy to see that he's making a return to the PGA Tour after struggling with an elbow injury in 2011.

"However, choosing the recipients of our sponsor exemptions is very difficult."

Bone said that the Northern Trust receives "dozens and dozens of requests every year from many qualified candidates from the amateur and professional ranks, yet we have only eight exemptions to offer. We have to consider several variables when making the final decision, and while Mike was not offered an exemption this year, we wish him the best throughout the 2012 season."

That's all boilerplate stuff, and doesn't say much about what went into denying Weir an exemption. In fact, the tournament offered 10 exemptions, of which the sponsor granted its usual allotment of eight.

The sponsor's exemptions include, among others: Fred Couples, the 1990 and 1992 champion, and one of the game's most popular players; Patrick Cantlay, a junior at UCLA and the top-ranked amateur in the world who played some great golf on the PGA Tour last year; South Korean K.T. Kim; PGA Tour rookies Billy Hurley III and Erik Compton, a first-rate player who has had two heart transplants; and Californian Jason Gore, who got in after he initiated a furious Twitter campaign.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour, which has two commissioner's foreign exemptions at its disposal, gave them to Japanese players Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda. Given that Weir is Canadian, he falls into the category of player eligible for a foreign exemption.

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A source close to the events that transpired around Weir but who did not want to be identified speculated that Asian television could be a priority with Northern Trust, a Chicago-based financial services company that has Asia-Pacific operations. Bone did not respond by deadline Wednesday to a question about whether this influenced the exemptions given. Riviera is owned by Japanese interests.

Weir can still play his way into the Northern Trust, by finishing in the top 10 this week at Pebble Beach. He tied for third at the AT&T in 2003 and finished second in 2005.

"I'm ready to play," Weir said in an e-mail the other day. It'll be his first tournament action since he withdrew from the Canadian Open last July with recurring elbow troubles.

Now he's ready to play, but the Northern Trust Open wasn't ready to grant a battling two-time former champion an exemption. It's a stunning insult to Weir.

The decision is an error of omission. It's also an error of commission.

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Reaction to my column about the Northern Trust Open not giving two-time champion Mike Weir a sponsor's exemption into next week's tournament has been lively. Here's a selection of the responses. Some came to me directly. Others were posted on www.geoffshackelford.com, a popular website that linked to the column.

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It is very obvious that the Spineless individual who made this comment, (Quote from previous comment; "I am surprised you would even write about Weir being denied entry, I mean Mike Weir does not matter anymore as a pro golfer, it is over for him, he wants to get into tournaments let him earn it.") knows NOTHING about golf and least of all NOTHING about Mike Weir and his Character and determination! I guess this comment could be from a member of the golf channel that also tried to totally ignore one of the Greatest Canadian Golfers of all time trying to get his game back. Hope you fellows never have a debilitating injury.

Signed, 'Ellwood' from Calgary, formerly Sarnia, Ont.

p.s. For all you uneducated Nay-sayers out there. This would be in C-a-n-a-d-a !

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Weir's ranked #1,033 in the world – how can anyone wonder why he doesn't get an exemption? He's been awful for a few years now, even before his injuries. In golf, unlike other sports, a player has to earn it – and he hasn't. Simple. (Don G)

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This is a travesty, and good on Mike to take such shabby treatment so graciously. The NT organizers should be ashamed of their conduct… they have won no friends here in Canada, and I am sure that the other pros take notice. A tour rookie ahead of a two time champion….unbelievable. (Gord M)

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Great article. Too bad for Northern Trust that he's not invited because he would draw ten times the fan support than Jason Gore would. I mean, really Jason Gore over Mike Weir! (Joe L)

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A Chatham Ont. native, I have lived in Los Angeles for the past 15 years. The folks at Riviera have absolutely no understanding of the numbers of Canadians working and vacationing in Southern California. Mike consistently draws the largest galleries of any player including Couples and Mickelson at Riviera. Ryo draws an interested gallery, as do the South Korean players, but nothing compared to Weir. In Palm Springs it is sometimes tee to green on a Thursday. And I was always intrigued at the huge numbers when Mike was not in the hunt.

Obviously the Riviera brass have looked at his world ranking and left it at that. Jason Gore is the error. Mike loves Pebble and I would love to see him come in the back door from a top 10 finish.

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Simple solution. Play better. If Weir plays better he will be in all the tournaments he wants. The reality is that Weir is a nice gut [sic]but a below average professional golfer with no chance of winning at Riviera or anywhere for that matter since his swing was ruined by the stack and tilt people. There are plenty of other players who have a better shot at actually winning; they should get the exemptions. At least he doesn't complain about it like John Daly though. (Emmet)

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I am surprised you would even write about Weir being denied entry, I mean Mike Weir does not matter anymore as a pro golfer, it is over for him, he wants to get into tournaments let him earn it.

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Whatever the (dubious) merits of this decision, there is a bad smell in the air when the tournament director can't hack a phone interview but has to hide behind the skirts of PGA Tour Central. Perhaps, however, that is only just -- it may well be that it was the Tour that insisted they place Kim rather than Weir, and the director didn't want to finger them for their fairly blatant market-driven interest. (Jack Frost)

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Ten exemptions available and you can't find room for a previous back-to-back champion? That's shameful! Yes, he's suffered from poor play over the last two years, much of it related to health problems, but for a tournament that likes to talk about their long history their doing a good job ignoring their past. (Chris C)

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I would love to see someone make an issue of this for Mike.Too late to help him, but is it all about $$$$$ ?? I always hope that our game could distinguish itself in some tiny ways from these other lowlife sports. Guess I am still naive.

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I challenge the Billy Hurley choice over Weir. True, Weir has not been playing well, but he's had a chronic elbow injury that has not allowed him to have full control the clubface for the better part of two years and says he's finally healthy now. Hurley is a rookie, and from what I understand a friend of the NT CEO's family. Favoritism over loyalty by NT, and it's too bad.

Should Weir be on the exemption bubble in the future, it wouldn't surprise me if he got a similar groundswell of support for him that Gore can thank for his spot. Maybe the only reason that didn't happen for Weir this year is that no one thought an exemption into the NT Open would really be in doubt. (PJ)

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Weir is a past his prime Canadian golfer, who got the short end of the stick…. Surprising? No. The people at Northern Trust are looking to field a group of players that will garner the most publicity and attention possible, which equates to making the most money. It's a business, and the fact of the matter is no more people in the US will watch because Mike Weir is playing. Frankly, I don't even think Canadian viewership would be any higher with Weir participating.

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Canadian golf enthusiasts who are watching the Northern Trust Open are ones that with Weir or no Weir would be watching either way. Weir had a nice run. Wine business can be lucrative, no?

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Speith is going to be a great player. Hurley served his country. Weir hasn't played well in awhile. Case closed. (smails)

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