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Mahan stops McIlroy

Updated: 2012-02-28 08:11
( China Daily)

Mahan stops McIlroy

Hunter Mahan of the US holds up the Walter Hagen Trophy after defeating Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland on the 17th hole of the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championships golf tournament in Marana, Arizona, Feb 26, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

Unheralded American wins the Match Play Championship and stalls young star's march toward world No 1

Even as Hunter Mahan motored his way through the Match Play Championship by beating one tough opponent after another, he had reason to feel he was just along for the ride in the final match on Sunday afternoon.

All the chatter was about US Open champion Rory McIlroy and his march to No 1 in the world.

All the chants Mahan heard as he walked down the first two holes at Dove Mountain were for McIlroy.

With a little extra motivation he didn't need, Mahan won three straight holes on the front nine to seize control and answered McIlroy's charge with birdies of his own for a 2-and-1 victory.

"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."

Mahan stops McIlroy

Hunter Mahan (left) of the United States si congratulated by Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland after winning the championship match 2 and 1 on the 17th hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Sunday in Marana, Arizona. Andy Lyons/Getty Images / AFP

It proved to be too long of a day for McIlroy, the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, who put so much energy into a high-stakes semifinal match against Lee Westwood earlier on Sunday. If either of them won the tournament, they would go to No 1 in the world.

McIlroy, explosive as ever, ran off seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch to overcome an early deficit and beat Westwood. He looked flat in the championship match, made a series of mistakes to lose back-to-back holes, and fell too far behind to catch 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 can easily make a case for that.

The six guys he had to beat at Dove Mountain were Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, Mark Wilson and McIlroy. Three of them have won majors. Five of them have made Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup teams. The exception was his semifinal match against Wilson, who has won three times on the PGA Tour in the past 14 months.

It required his best golf, and Mahan delivered with 35 birdies in 96 holes over six matches.

"It feels good because you're going against the game's best," Mahan said. "I played well from tee-to-green, putting to chipping to driving, irons, everything was there. I needed everything to win. I'm very proud of how I played. It feels great. It really does."

Mahan won for the fourth time in his career, two of them World Golf Championships. He also won the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in 2010. He joins Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy and Darren Clarke as the only players to win multiple WGC titles since these events began in 1999.

And he was the first American to win the Match Play Championship since Woods in 2008. He moves to No 9 in the world, the first time in his career that Mahan has cracked the top 10.

Mahan stops McIlroy

Hunter Mahan (R) of the US and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland walk off the tee on the 15th hole during the final round of the WGC Accenture Matchplay Championships golf tournament in Marana, Arizona, Feb 26, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

Luke Donald stays at No 1, though McIlroy is closing in quickly. McIlroy, who rejoined the PGA Tour this year, plays the Honda Classic next week against a strong field, and then has another WGC at Doral.

He never led in the championship match against Mahan, losing an opportunity on the opening hole when he missed a 4-foot par putt. Mahan took the lead with a 9-iron into 2 feet for a conceded birdie on the par-3 sixth.

The last time Mahan was in a pressure situation against a player from Northern Ireland was in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, when US Open champion Graeme McDowell made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole of the decisive match.

Even so, the memories of that match are Mahan duffing a chip on the last hole, though McDowell was likely to win the match, anyway. Mahan has worked hard on his chipping, and he feels it carried him this week.

Associated Press


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