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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Mike Weir, of Sandy, pops his ball out of the sand on the first hole as golfers compete on the first day of the Utah Championship at Oakridge Country Club in Farmington on Thursday, July 12, 2018.

FARMINGTON – Most folks aren’t usually excited to turn 48, but for Utah golfer Mike Weir, turning 48 two months ago, on May 12, was kind of a big deal. It meant that he was eligible to play on the Web.com Tour with exempt status for the next two years.

You might wonder why that would be important to a guy like Weir, who has won eight tournaments on the PGA Tour, including the 2003 Masters, and has pocketed more than $27 million, the 37th most all-time on the PGA Tour.

But for Weir, who has struggled for much of the past decade with a series of injuries and below-par play, it’s exciting as he gears up for a “new chapter” in his golfing career by playing with a bunch of kids half his age.

Weir wants to play on the Champions Tour in 2020 when he turns 50 and join old friends and competitors on the links. By playing on the Web.com Tour, he can keep his game sharp along with his competitive edge. He’s played in four Web.com events before playing Thursday in the first round of the Utah Championship at Oakridge Country Club.

Weir was all smiles after his round Thursday, even though his even-par 71 left him in a tie for 104th place, 10 full shots behind first-day leader Cameron Champ, who shot a career-best 61 at Oakridge Country Club. Weir had his two daughters, Elle, 20, and Lili, 17, following him, not to mention several other friends, and he finished strong.

“I’m really enjoying my golf now — I love to compete still and am having a lot of fun,” he said. “Today wasn’t my best, but I’m enjoying golf maybe more than I ever have.”

A day earlier, Weir had shot “eight- or nine-under par” in a pro-am, but some poor drives cost him some shots on Thursday. He had started poorly, falling to 3-over par through seven holes, but he settled down and played 3-under the rest of the way, including a birdie on the last hole when he hit his approach within six feet.

“I know I’m playing well, I just wasn’t real sharp today, so I wanted to just stay patient and say, ‘hey there’s lots of golf left’ and birdied two of the last three to get it back to even,” he said. “I get out early with the good greens tomorrow and maybe I can shoot a 7 or 8 under and get back in there.”

Weir is the “old man” on the Web.com Tour, where there are few golfers older than 30. He’s eligible under category No. 8 among the 32 categories for determining each week’s field. Three former PGA Tour players ages 48 and 49 are eligible for each Web.com event, and since he has more career earnings than anyone else, he’s always assured of playing whenever he wants.

You’d think it might be a bit demeaning for a former Masters champion to be playing in the “minor leagues” and earning checks for $1,578 as he did last month in Illinois. But it doesn’t bother Weir.

“That’s golf, I don’t look at it that way at all,” he said. “You’ve got to throw your ego out when you play this game. I played six or seven years on the Canadian Tour and in Australia before I got on the Tour. I didn’t get on the Tour until I was 28 years old. I had to play on some smaller tours and do all that. It’s fine — it’s just what it is.”

Weir, who came out to Utah from Bright’s Grove in Ontario, Canada, to play golf at BYU in the early 1990s, has made it his home ever since as he now lives in Sandy.

“It’s great, one of the reasons I live here is because of the lifestyle — the fly fishing skiing, good golf … I used to think it was a secret, but the word’s out, it’s a great place.”

A little while after Weir finished his round in the late afternoon, Champ finished up his spectacular round of 61, which tied the course record set last year by Christian Brand.

The 23-year-old who played for Texas A&M, has come on strong after a slow start to his rookie season, finishing in the top 10 of his last four events.

Champ started off by make birdies on the first three holes and then birdied holes 7 through 9 to make the turn at 30. Then on the back nine, he rolled in a 65-footer at the par-3 11th hole and added birds at 13, 15 and 16.

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At that point, all he needed were a couple of more birdies on the final two holes to join the exclusive 59 club and become the eighth player in Web.com Tour history to shoot under 60. However he left himself long putts at 17 and 18 and settled for his 61.

Champ is two shots ahead of three other golfers, Luke Guthrie, Martin Trainer and Steven Ihm, and three ahead of former PGA Tour winner Derek Ernst.

Patrick Fishburn, the reigning Utah Open champion and former BYU standout, fired a 4-under-par 67, which puts him in a tie for 29th place going into the second round, along with Scott Pinckney, who was born in Orem and played junior golf in Utah before moving to Arizona as a teenager.