PARAMUS, NJ—Tom Watson’s job as American Captain for this year’s Ryder Cup got a good bit easier with Hunter Mahan’s solid final round play in winning The Barclays—the first leg of the Fed-Ex playoffs victory.
Mahan has had—until his most recent play—an uneventful year but his sudden ascension has now elevated his status for key consideration as a wild card selection by Watson when the USA Captain officially announces his final selections September 2 in New York City.
Mahan’s win came through stellar play on the final nine holes – five birdies in a seven-hole stretch from holes 11 thru 17. A meaningless bogey at the final hole only lessened his winning margin to two shots over a trio of players—Jason Day, Cameron Tringale, and Stuart Appleby. Mahan fired a solid final round six-under-par 65 good for a two-stroke win and a 270 winning total.
Day was tied with Jim Furyk entering the final round, but a whole host of players were within two shots of the lead with 18 holes to play. Day managed to hold the lead through the front nine but was unable to sustain the pace Mahan set just ahead of him.
Mahan’s last PGA victory came more than two years ago and is his sixth on the PGA Tour. Entering the playoffs at the #62 position, the 32-year-old assured himself of playing in only the first two events. But now his win at Ridgewood CC allows him to play through to the Tour Championship—something he has done every year since the Fed-Ex playoffs started in 2007—one of only three players who can make such a claim.
One of Mahan’s main strengths is solid driving of the ball and that was on fine display during the final round. Minus the final hole where an errant tee shot finished well right of the fairway, his uncanny ability to drive long and straight allowed for far easier approaches than his chief rivals could produce down the stretch run on the back nine.
Ridgewood—hosting The Barclays for the 3rd time—demonstrated only superior shot-making would gain access for birdies. The rough just off the fairways was an effective deterrent and the tree-lined fairways prevented the more wayward drives from being able to escape unscathed time after time.
As the playoffs move next week to the second stop with The Deutsche Bank event in the greater Boston area, the focus will remain on those seeking to gain the attention of Watson for one of the three wild card picks he has to offer.
Mahan has played in team competitions previously—twice on the Ryder Cup and an equal number on the President’s Cup. So his selection would provide another veteran in top form with the matches in Scotland coming up.
The larger issue will be just how much golf is enough golf in order for the American squad to be sufficiently ready for Team Europe at Gleneagles. This year’s Fed-Ex playoffs are a four-week consecutive run with just one week off prior to the matches at the end of this month. No question the playoffs force players to raise the level of their play, but compressing the schedule into so much activity in so little time can drain even the most fittest of players.
Ryder Cup pressure is like no other and Mahan knows full well the extent of what it means to play in such a nerve-ratcheting environment. But even with the stakes being as high as they generally are the goal of being on the front lines excites him to the core.
“There’s nothing like playing a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup – a team event like that,” said Mahan. “I mean it really has taken a life of its own since (Paul) Azinger became captain (in 2008) and made the crowd a part of the event. I think he was the first one to really do that and since then everyone uses the crowd to their advantage because it is an advantage—100 percent.
It’s such a unique, special event to be part of and every player wants to be a part of one. But once you have been, you want to get there almost even more than the guys who haven’t just because you know what you’re experiencing and you know what you’re missing.”
Mahan’s win at The Barclays has now sharpened the lens for Watson to see what players really have the wherewithal to handle the stakes any Ryder Cup Match can produce. It was Mahan who was present when Graeme McDowell bested him in the decisive winning match in 2010 in Wales at Celtic Manor.
How meaningful it would be for Mahan to return the favor by winning on foreign soil in a key final match—bringing home the Ryder Cup to American soil for just the third time in the previous ten matches. Such a situation is not out of the realm of possibility. Captain Watson has much to dwell upon between now and September 2. On to Boston now for round two of the Fed-Ex playoffs.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.