By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 6, 2009
The ball rolled 14 feet and 10 inches from Hunter Mahan's putter into the cup at No. 18, concluding a round that tied a course record and sent reverberations throughout Congressional Country Club.
Fans arrived yesterday expecting the champion of the AT&T National to be determined by the final pairing of Tiger Woods and Anthony Kim. But seven holes ahead of Wood and Kim, Mahan finished a masterful 8-under-par 62. It was the same record Kim set on Thursday, placing Kim in a position to contend with Woods. Mahan's round yesterday put him in contention with Woods, creating a potential playoff until Woods birdied on No. 16.
After Woods's shot, Mahan's memorable afternoon was not enough. He would instead finish second overall with a 12-under 268, his third top-10 finish in the last three weeks and fifth this season.
"I think everybody was watching [Kim] and Tiger and expecting kind of a battle there," said Mahan, who was the only player to finish every round under par. "I figured with great players on the leader board like that, I figured they would get to at least 13 or 14 under."
Mahan retreated to the clubhouse once he conducted interviews and signed autographs following his round. He grabbed an early dinner and watched Woods on television, awaiting the possibility of a sudden-death playoff. Mahan shared the room with Elin Woods, Tiger's wife, and their two children.
When Woods missed a putt on No. 14, Mahan shouted "yes!" in glee. Mahan had expected Woods to birdie early in the back nine -- "He's pretty good," Mahan admitted -- but when the score remained tied before No. 16, Mahan returned to the practice green to warm up.
While on the practice green, Mahan's caddie, John Wood, checked for updated scores on his cellular phone. Wood revealed that Woods birdied No. 16, leaving it all but inevitable that Woods would win.
"It was kind of in Tiger's court there," Mahan said. "This gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I can shoot a low round at any point."
Mahan entered the day tied for 16th. Topping the leader board seemed unrealistic, and Mahan admitted he could not even entertain that thought. He arrived at Congressional yesterday simply hoping to shoot a low score, a feat he was confident he could accomplish after spending nearly a week playing the course. He shot eight groups in front of Woods, relieving any of the pressure associated with a typical championship contender.
The notion that he could win only entered Mahan's mind when he birdied the par-3 No. 13 and a fan called, "You're tied for the lead!"
Mahan finished the front nine with a 3-under-par 32, and No. 13 was the third of six birdies on the back nine. Even when he bogeyed No. 14, he followed with a birdie on the next hole.
"I was so far back, I needed to shoot a 62 like I did to just to have a chance," Mahan said. "I really wasn't concerned about it. I just wanted to get some putts early."
Mahan believed he was shooting well throughout the week, but simply could not finish putts. It frustrated Mahan, whose career has brimmed with potential but is recently beginning to hint at success.
After shooting a pair of 1-under 69s and a 2-under 68 on the first three days, respectively, it would be reasonable for Mahan to play a shot back in his mind from earlier in the tournament. Eleven more inches on Saturday's No. 14 putt, for example, would have avoided a bogey, and thus would have tied yesterday's score.
But Mahan refused to think that way just minutes after the result was finalized yesterday evening. It would be a maddening exercise. He will wake up this morning $648,000 richer than Saturday, having matched a course record at one of the nation's top courses and built more confidence heading into the Open Championship in two weeks. He has not missed a cut this year and has made 22 consecutive cuts dating from last year.
Still, Mahan can only wonder how his name would resonate with golf fans had a playoff occurred or if his name was on the top of Woods's name on the leader board at Woods's event.
"I don't know," Mahan said. We'll never know I guess."