After a disappointing finish at the BMW Championship, Hunter Mahan entered the playoff finale ranked No. 21 in FedExCup points. Now he’s tied for the lead with Aaron Baddeley at nine-under going into Sunday at the Tour Championship.
Mahan rolled in a birdie on the tough par-3 18 to shoot a solid four-under 66 on a day where the leaders struggled, including the top five in FEC points. He’s currently projected to win the FedExCup. When he found out, he said he was “shocked.” He had no idea until NBC’s Jimmy Roberts told him.
“It’s kind of ‑‑ it’s weird,” said Mahan in his post-round presser. “Like I said, I could still win ‑‑ I could play flawless golf tomorrow, win by five and finish fifth in FedExCup points. I could finish tenth in FedExCup points. I’m 15 and I was outside the top 10 on FedExCup points. I mean, I might tee off tomorrow and be 10th. I don’t know where I’ll be. It’s one of those things where it’s like you can’t even worry about it just because you can’t do the math that fast.
“Someone makes a birdie ‑‑ Webb Simpson might make a birdie on 18 and it might be over, we don’t know. Like I said, I don’t have any idea. I kind of checked a couple times today, and I didn’t even see myself in the top 10.”
Mahan, who couldn’t find his natural right-to-left draw last week, feels much more comfortable after a range session on Wednesday with instructor Sean Foley.
“I just wasn’t squaring it up (the club) like I needed to,” said Hunter, referring to his ball flight last week, after his round. “Everything was good, positions were fine, I just needed to square it up and trust it at impact. It wasn’t far off. My shots just weren’t turning over; they were kind of starting in the right place but not drawing. But Foley came down and we kind of worked on it.”
And when Hunter draws the ball like he has been, he feels much more confident, which has made a big difference from last week to this week. He also has less on his mind.
On Wednesday I asked if he felt more relaxed and he immediately said, “Yeah, definitely compared to last week.” He almost sounded flustered, but relieved. I can’t exactly pin it down — it was just obvious he felt a lot of pressure at the BMW.
At the Tour Championship, it’s been a different story.
“It was a stressful week,” said Mahan. “The FedExCup Playoffs — where I was, I was kind of teetering on staying in the top 30 or not, so trying to focus and grind on that, then trying to make The Presidents Cup team, and the way guys were playing, they bunched it up there kind of 8 through 12. It’s a lot to think about. I was trying to play as hard as I could and luckily made it on points and felt like I freed myself up a little bit this week. I really have nothing to lose, so trying to be aggressive and trying to have some fun and pretty much let everything go.”
Playing in the final group tomorrow for all the big bucks, Mahan isn’t even going to try to figure out the complicated scenarios — there’s no point. In fact, he’s almost annoyed that there’s so much focus on the FEC. (Amen to that.)
“It’s pretty simple for me to try to win this tournament no matter if I can win the FedExCup or not doesn’t matter,” said Mahan. “I’m trying to win the TOUR Championship. It’s kind of sad for the TOUR Championship in a way because it kind of gets lost, and this is really one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year. It’s 30 of the best players in the world playing this week, and the only thing people are concerned about is the FedExCup, who’s leading that.
“Who’s leading the tournament, it’s going to be kind of weird tomorrow since the top 5 guys aren’t really in contention, except for Luke. Hopefully that doesn’t take away from the tournament no matter who wins. But you know, like I said, I want to try to win the Tour Championship tomorrow. I’m in a good spot. I feel good about my game, and that’s all I can do and that’s all I can really try to do.”
In other words, he thinks the FEC is silly and there needs to be less emphasis on some points system that only computers can calculate (except if you’re poor Steve Sands with the whiteboard).
Mahan still has his work cut out for him. World No. 1 Luke Donald, who entered the week No. 4 in the FEC standings, struggled keeping the ball in the fairway, but fought back on the back nine to shoot an even par 70. He’s three shots behind Mahan and Baddeley. Then there’s Jason Day and K.J. Choi, who are T3, two strokes behind the co-leaders at seven-under.
Bill Haas was looking good and made several clutch putts until he went bogey, double-bogey in the last two holes to drop back to a tie for fifth with Donald.
Don’t count out Phil Mickelson, either. The four-time major champ is lurking quietly, four shots off the pace, but if he shoots a 64 tomorrow, he has a decent shot.
Who’s your best bet? I like Mahan (he’s on my Fantasy Golf team) or Choi (if he’s reading the greens correctly). Can’t count out Donald — and he got his bad round out of the way today.
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)