Mahan adds another WGC to his collection

DOUG FERGUSON AP Golf Writer Published:

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) -- Hunter Mahan is among the top 10 in the world. He has played on every U.S. team in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup for the past five years. About the only thing keeping him from being truly part of the elite in golf is winning more often.

Two of his four wins, however, show why his game holds so much promise.

Mahan became only the sixth player to win multiple World Golf Championships on Sunday, and this might have been the toughest of all. Right when golf was on the verge of anointing Rory McIlroy as the new No. 1 player in the world, Mahan capped off a long week at Dove Mountain with a resounding 2-and-1 win over the U.S. Open champion.

"When you play a WGC event, it's the best players in the world," Mahan said. "So this feels pretty special. It's hard to get lucky this week, because you're going to play such great players every single round."

No one had a tougher road.

Just to get to the championship match Sunday, Mahan had to get through former Masters champion Zach Johnson, former PGA champion Y.E. Yang, Ryder Cup teammates Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar, and Mark Wilson, who has won three times in the past 14 months on the PGA Tour.

That was just for a shot at McIlroy.

Moments after a 2-and-1 win over Wilson in the semifinal, Mahan said before going to lunch, "You've got to beat five great players to get here. I've got to beat one more incredible player to win."

He also was inspired by the constant chatter, and cheering, as the focus most of the week was on McIlroy's bid to be No. 1 in the world. All he had to do was win the Match Play Championship, and it when McIlroy won his semifinal match against Lee Westwood -- who also could have gone to No. 1 -- it seemed as if a coronation was one match away.

Or not.

"Deep down, you wanted to postpone that crowning of the No. 1 player in the world for Rory," Mahan said. "He'll get there. I mean, he's phenomenal. He's really talented. He'll be No. 1 eventually. But yeah, when you're a player, and I listen to Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo and all those guys, they had him picked to win. And that's what everybody was talking about.

"There was absolute motivation in that."

McIlroy, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, looked every bit a No. 1 player -- at least on Sunday morning.

He poured all his energy into beating Westwood, a former stablemate turned rival, both with a shot to replace Luke Donald atop the world ranking. It was the match McIlroy had pointed to all week.

Three down after four holes, McIlroy delivered seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch for a 3-and-1 victory.

But when he fell behind Mahan, there was no such comeback.

The opening five holes were halved until Mahan hit 9-iron to 2 feet on the par-3 sixth. That's when McIlroy had a mental meltdown, effectively giving away the next two holes.

Mahan's shot to the green went left, down into a steep slope into a collection area. McIlroy, only needing to hit the green, hit the same shot. McIlroy first pitch up the slope didn't make it and rolled back to his feet, leading to double bogey.

On the par-5 eighth, McIlroy had to lay up after driving into the bunker. With Mahan on the front edge of the green, 70 feet away, he tried to stuff his sand wedge close to the cup and saw it bound over the green. He chipped to 8 feet and missed to make bogey.

"I tried to claw myself back, but I left myself too much work," McIlroy said.

McIlroy lived up to his explosive reputation. Four down after 10, he chipped in for eagle from about 60 feet short of the green, the first hole he won in the match.

Mahan showed he was up to the challenge.

McIlroy looked as if he would win another hole with a two-putt birdie on the 13th. Mahan was in a bunker, but blasted out to 6 feet and sank the birdie putt to remain 3 up.

"I thought 13 was big," Mahan said. "If he won that hole, then I think momentum definitely would have changed. But to get up-and-down from that bunker, make that next putt, that kind of slowed it down for him a little bit."

His work was not done. McIlroy made birdie on the 14th to trim the margin, then drove onto the 316-yard 15th green to 30 feet. Mahan came up about 10 feet short of the green, 40 feet from the cup.

Even though he was proud of his improved chipping, he reached for the putter. Club selection was never in doubt.

"I thought that was the best play," Mahan said. "My touch with my putting has been pretty awesome this week. And at that time, where Rory is, I felt that gave me the best chance to make it."

He nearly did, rolling it right on line, just short. McIlroy missed his putt and Mahan stayed 2 up. They halved the next hole with pars, and when McIlroy failed to birdie the 17th, the match was over.

McIlroy wonders if he had any gas left after he used so much against Westwood. But he also recognizes good golf, which is what he saw from Mahan.

"To me, it was like my final in a way," McIlroy said of his win over Westwood. "That was the one I wanted all week and I got. And that's what I got myself up for. Yeah, maybe mentally and emotionally it did take a little bit out of me. But it still doesn't take away from the fact that Hunter played very, very solid golf."

"Even though I threw a few birdies and an eagle at him in the back nine, he still responded well and held on," he said. "I think during the course of the week, he had played the best golf and deserved to win."

Mahan made a case for that, with 35 birdies on his scorecards over 96 holes in six matches.

Not only did he become the first American since Tiger Woods to win the Match Play Championship, he joined Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy, and Darren Clarke as multiple winners of the WGCs since they began in 1999.

The next step is winning more.

"To be the player I want to be, you have to win more," he said. "That's how you separate players. I felt like I was capable of winning more than four, but that's what I have right now. And I feel like I'm doing all the right things. I've worked hard the last few years with Sean Foley. He's been a huge, huge impact in my life and in my golf game.

"I'm fortunate to be with him and excited about what we're going to do in the future."