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Mahan weathers Masters better than most players

Friday, April 01, 2011

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Hunter Mahan has put himself in some elite company over the past two Masters Tournaments.

Hunter Mahan has three PGA Tour victories but no major championships. He finished tied for sixth in the 2007 British Open and the 2009 U.S. Open. To win a major, Mahan said, he needs to make more putts and convert more key up-and-down opportunities. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

He's one of just three players to finish in the top 10 both years.

The other two? Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who have combined to win seven green jackets.

What's more, Mahan, along with Woods, Mickelson, Lee Westwood and K.J. Choi were the only golfers last year to shoot under par in all four rounds at Augusta National Golf Club.

"It's not extremely hard if you get good weather," said the 28-year-old Mahan, the lone 20-something in that group. "If you get good weather, you can make some birdies and get things going on it. The way they're making the course now, they're making it more fair and you can make birdies on the back nine."

Last year, Mahan, shot 71-71-68-71 to tie for eighth place. He tied for 10th in 2009 with the same 7-under-par 281 total (rounds of 66-75-71-69).

"I love the golf course and everything and the whole ambiance of the Masters," Mahan said. "It's definitely a goal of mine (to win the Masters). I feel like my game is kind of right there for it. It suits me pretty well."

Mahan has been in the final-round mix the past two years. In 2009, he entered the closing round seven shots off the lead shared by Kenny Perry and Angel Cabrera and finished five behind the winner, Cabrera.

Last year, he was six back of Westwood, the 54-hole leader, entering Sunday and finished nine back when Mickelson closed with 67 to win.

"I feel like I've been in contention enough the last couple of years to know what it feels like and know what I need to do to win," Mahan said.

"Really, contention starts on the back nine on Sunday where the leaders are," he said. "If you're within a few shots of the lead, you've got a chance because you can make a lot of birdies and eagles. You just never know what's going to happen."

Mahan, who has three tour titles, hasn't won a major yet, but he has the next best thing: a victory in one of the World Golf Championships events, which he calls "the biggest events we have" after majors. He took the 2010 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on the strength of a final-round 64.

"A major is different; it's a different class," Mahan said. "But a World Golf Championships, with the field they produce and the courses they play at, are pretty special to win."

Mahan's best major finishes are a tie for sixth at both the 2007 British Open and the 2009 U.S. Open.

"It's learning how to play in majors, how to win in majors, because it is a little different than other tournaments, and experience helps," said Mahan, who has played in 20 majors. "It's no wonder that Tiger and Phil are always up there, and Lee Westwood."

To win a major championship, Mahan said he needs to make more putts and convert more key up-and-downs for birdies and to save par.

His stats from the 2010 Masters bear that out. He was eighth in driving distance (289.6 yards), tied for 17th in fairways hit (43), tied for third in greens hit (54) but tied for 31st in putts (with 121).

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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