After Hunter Mahan rolled in a delicate 10-footer to save bogey on the 18th hole, he smiled out of both relief and joy. The putt sealed his two-stroke victory over Jason Day, Cameron Tringale and Stuart Appleby at The Barclays, the first of four legs of the FedExCup Playoffs — it was also his first win since 2012.
“I think I was thinking that it was harder than it needed to be, and I was thinking just how good it felt to just pour it right in the middle and to not — I kind of limped in, but to make that putt was kind of like, man, you did that,” said Mahan, who posted a final-round, six-under 65, 14-under winning total. “You rolled that thing in there confidently. You did what you had to do to win.
“It was a lot going on, kind of a lot and a little going on in my head, and I was just figuring out all these different situations if I missed or if I made it. I found a good line there and had great feel, great speed all day and hit it and it just looked like it was perfect.
“I just felt like at ease, kind of everything kind of just left my body at one time.”
Despite the hiccup on the last, Mahan caught fire on the back nine at Ridgewood, draining birdies on four of his last six holes, including three in a row on nos. 15-17 to give himself a three-shot cushion heading into the 72nd hole.
That’s why he and his caddie decided to play for a bogey five on the 18th after Mahan pushed his drive into the right rough. Had he not had a couple-shot lead, he could have probably hit a 7-iron to just right of the green. His caddie John Wood was almost certain of it.
“Initially when I got to the ball, I liked far right, but the fact was he couldn’t see anything and most likely would have been landing in the crowd and we had a three-shot lead, it made no sense at all to do it,” said Wood, who stopped to chat with reporters on his way to grab the 18th pin flag.
“I think if there were no people there, he would’ve hit 7-iron on the green 7 out of 10 times. It wasn’t that hard. But the fact that he had a 3-shot lead and what I thought was going to be a chip-out and a wedge — made it a little more exciting with the wedge. We had to play for 5. There was no reason to go for the right.”
Mahan chipped out and left himself with a routine wedge shot into the green. Well, it should’ve been routine, but he decided to make things a little more interesting on himself by pulling it into the rough just left of the green.
“I was pretty surprised (at that shot),” said Mahan, laughing. “It was a wedge. It was a great number. I just was like, I’ll hit a nice high draw that I do almost every day on the range. I didn’t hit one left hardly all week, and sure enough I hit it left and was like, wow, this is not what I imagined playing the last hole.
“But, you know, it’s just about getting it in. I knew if I could get up-and-down, it would be a five and that’s kind of after my tee shot, it’s like just get a five and get out of here. It was more exciting than it needed to be, but it was a good lesson learned and still got five and still made a good putt. Made it exciting and gave myself a little more confidence with my putter so that felt nice.”
The birdie on the 17th was extremely key. Mahan dropped a curling 20-footer for birdie on the penultimate hole — which pretty much clinched the tournament for him.
“I had a feeling, I like I knew what this putt was going to do,” he said. “It was downhill and speed wasn’t an issue. And hit it saw it rolling down the middle, or it looked like in the middle to me. The green is so pure and it went right to the middle of the hole.
“To make that one, it was probably going to be the clincher for me because basically I had a three-shot lead with one to go. Almost needed all three shots, but it felt good to make that one, and you know, to seal it with kind of authority.”
Mahan not only now leads the FedExCup points standings, but he clinches a spot in the season finale, Tour Championship. Which also means he keeps his streak alive of playing in every playoff event since its inception in 2007. That’s what we call consistency.
Now, of course, his fine play as of late has other implications. Most significant of all, he certainly had to have caught the attention of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, who will announce his three wildcard picks for the American squad next Tuesday, September 2nd. The points standings closed following the PGA Championship, where the top nine points earners secured automatic berths. The final three coveted spots will be decided at the discretion of Captain Watson.
Mahan, who didn’t qualify for the team in 2012, is naturally eager to make the U.S. team and admitted that it has been on his mind.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks,” he said. “Just the unfortunate things that have happened to the guys on the team (injuries), seems like it’s let a lot of guys in. I don’t know who he’s thinking about or what his process is, but I need a strong couple weeks, a strong major and a strong couple Playoff events, to have a chance.
“Obviously a win, it helps a lot. Obviously playing well at the PGA helped a lot. So obviously I have no idea what he’s thinking or if he has any sort of strategy. But I think a win is a good step in the right direction.”
Mahan is also keen to make it back on the Ryder Cup team after his last memory of it in 2010 wasn’t exactly a positive one. Four years ago, he was the singles anchor in a match against Graeme McDowell. The entire Ryder Cup came down to their game, and on the 17th hole at Celtic Manor, Mahan flubbed a chip, failing to put pressure on McDowell. At the time, the whole situation was overblown, with many using Mahan as the scapegoat for costing the Americans the Cup. However, like I said, it was an overreaction since the U.S. was in trouble long before Mahan chunked the chip.
“It was a sour feeling,” Mahan said, looking back at the 2010 biennial matches between Europe and the United States. “I think Geoff Ogivly had the best quote about team events: it’s the most fun you’ll ever have, until you figure out you’re going to lose.
“But that’s the truth of it. Everybody gets so geared up for it, man, and you just see these emotions coming out of people to be free and just go out there and play golf because you want to win for no other reason.
“It’s really an honor to be part of the team, and I think with this win, I’ve got a chance.”
It’s going to be very hard for Watson to overlook Mahan, who ended up finishing 25th on the points list when it closed following the PGA Championship. Mahan didn’t have the greatest season in the world, with a handful of top 10s prior to his victory at The Barclays.
However, his game has shown signs of turning around for the better in the past month. He finished T15 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, then he placed T7 at the PGA. His victory this week has been a culmination of all the hard work he’s put in to come back into form.
His caddie also sensed Hunter’s game was about to take a positive turn in recent weeks.
“His ball striking came back around in Akron,” said Wood. “His short game has come around — he chipped extremely great this week. At the PGA, he played awesome over the weekend — 65, 67.
“I knew his game was there. I knew he was going to play well this week. You never know how hard it was going to be win out here because there’s so many great players, but if you would’ve told me he was going to top 5, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all.”
Added Mahan, who felt it coming around even before then: “I felt going into even the British Open, I was doing the right things and things were turning around and I was getting better. I obviously played good, solid at Bridgestone and the PGA. I just need to continue to work and keep going and I needed to focus myself a little bit after the middle part of the year.
“You know, there’s really never a bad time to play good golf, and this is a really, really good time to play good golf. But yeah, I would like to peak at this time every year. That would be ideal, that’s for sure.”
Two years ago, he was in a different place, where things weren’t going so well, even though he had started the year in a good spot in the Ryder Cup points standings. In fact, he was leading them at one point during the year before he fell out of qualifying for the team automatically at the last second — which makes Mahan even hungrier to get a spot on the squad this time around.
“It definitely hurts when you don’t make (the Ryder Cup team) because that’s the goal of every American and European player,” he said. “Definitely stings a little bit.
“So you know, it’s definitely kind of role reversal; I’ve been out all year long. I knew, I felt like there was an opportunity for quite a few guys to kind of make a run and make themselves known and kind of put their hat in the mix there. So I think the last few weeks I’ve done that and at least give him a lot to think about.”
Somewhere, Tom Watson was likely sitting on his couch watching Mahan win The Barclays — whether it makes his final decision easier or harder, well, we’ll find out soon enough. At this point, I’d like Mahan is a lock as a pick because we sure need some in-form players against what’s shaping up to be a tough-looking European squad. A strong week at next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship — anything in the top 20 — would certainly make Mahan’s case even tougher to argue against.
Players ranked between No. 101-125 needed a good finish at The Barclays to move into the top 100 in the standings and move on to the Deutsche Bank Championship. Here’s how they fared this week:
101. Martin Flores Missed 54-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
102. Aaron Baddeley
103. Steve Stricker Not playing (injury) Eliminated from Playoffs
104. Bo Van Pelt T13
105. Ricky Barnes T68
106. Michael Thompson Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
107. Lee Westwood T57
108. Jhonattan Vegas T67
109. Stewart Cink T15
110. Andres Romero T38
111. Troy Merritt T46
112. David Toms Missed 54-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
113. Boo Weekley T61
114. Tim Wilkinson Missed 54-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
115. Justin Leonard Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
116. Danny Lee T38
117. Brice Garnett Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
118. Paul Casey T22
119. Gonzalo Fdez-Castano T15
120. Sang-Moon Bae Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
121. James Hahn Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
122. Bryce Molder T46
123. Louis Oosthuizen Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs
124. Morgan Hoffman T9
125. Robert Allenby Missed 36-hole cut Eliminated from Playoffs