Mahan Lurking near Top of Leaderboard


While all the pre-Masters talk was about Rory, Phil and Tiger, the hottest player on the planet, Hunter Mahan, has been almost an afterthought. But the 29-year-old Californian - the PGA Tour's leading money earner - is the only two-time winner on the tour and is having a fine, albeit understated, 2012 Masters.

Mahan, whose wins this year came in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the last event before the Masters, the Houston Open, has carded rounds of 72, 72 and 68, and is only five strokes behind leader Peter Hanson heading into Sunday's crucible at Augusta National.

As someone back in the pack but not too far down the leaderboard, Mahan is in prime position to make a final-round charge. And he likes where he's sitting. "This is a great position to be in," he said Saturday evening. "There's nothing to be nervous about right now."

Mahan tees off Sunday at 2:20 p.m. (ET) with fellow Yank Matt Kuchar. Mahan, a former Oklahoma State All-American, had a lengthy Q&A with reporters following his third round. Here's what he had to say about getting his first major title.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to welcome back Hunter Mahan, winner of the 2012 WGC Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2012 Shell Houston Open. His best Masters finish is eighth in 2010. This is his sixth Masters appearance. He finished his third round of competition with a 68, 4 under par for the day, and he currently is 4 under par for the Tournament. Hunter, why don't you open up with a comment about the round today and then we'll open it to questions.

HUNTER MAHAN: All right. Well, played the par 5s well today, which is always an important key at Augusta here if you can play the par 5s well, make some birdies, because they are almost all reachable. And picked up some easy shots there, because the greens are drying out, getting a little faster probably by the hour. So it was nice to get out there somewhat early I guess and get through there and played pretty solid and made a nice long birdie on 12, which kind of kick started the round. Made a nice 2 putt birdie on 13 and 15. Made a nice couple par saves today which were big. Got a lot of confidence in the putter right now. I've got good feel for the greens and around the greens. So, excited about how I played today and looking forward to tomorrow.

Q. It seems like the scores are much lower today. Are the conditions dramatically, I don't want to say easier but are they a little bit more score-able than they have been the first two days?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think some pins are a little bit easier, probably a little more accessible today. The greens are getting faster, but the fairways are a little bit firming up so you're not getting quite as many mud balls so you can kind of control your distances a little bit more. It's warming up, and the course in general is probably playing a little bit shorter since it's a little bit warmer than it was the first two days. But you know, there's - the course, it's playing so perfect right now, because you shoot anything in the 60s, you're going to move up; and if you shoot over par, you're going to move back. But you still can shoot 4 , 5 , 6 under par out there. It's playing as good as it could be right now.

Q. This stretch that you've been on for the last six weeks or so, last week and all that, are you at all slightly fatigued mentally, physically, any of that, or are you still flying high and turbocharged?

HUNTER MAHAN: I feel good. I've done a good job of playing golf without wasting energy. I'm not out there beating myself up over a bad shot or a bad round or a bad stretch or anything. I'm taking it easy on myself. I can put myself in position like this on Sunday where I have a lot of energy, and I feel great. It's been actually a pretty relaxing week. I've had a lot of fun with some friends. So, I feel great. I'm not at all fatigued. I'm very much excited and I feel at totally full strength.

Q. As we walked in here, I saw you perusing the leaderboard a little bit; seeing Phil and what he's done around here and knowing how well you know him and where he's at, what goes through your mind? A lot going on on the leaderboard. He just made eagle?

HUNTER MAHAN: I saw that. I went in, I have not seen Phil all day and there he is on the leaderboard. I think that's the greatest example of Augusta in purest form right there. You know, birdies 10, and then makes the next birdie on 12 and then eagles 13. That's the back nine at Augusta in a nutshell right there. You can be kind of hanging in there, kind of just 2 under, he's probably at 13th place or whatever, and then all of a sudden has a good stretch there and he's in first. That's very Phil and that's very Augusta. You're just never really out of this tournament until it's over. So it's exciting.

Q. As a follow, you know him fairly well and the mojo he has around here; have you observed that he has a feel - did you play a practice round with him?

HUNTER MAHAN: I just played the first two rounds with him. I don't know if there's a player on Tour who loves Augusta more than Phil. Loves everything about it. You can tell, he puts his coat on when he gets here (laughter). He does. He gets off the plane and the coat is on and he comes through the gates here. I think it's out of absolute 100 percent respect and pride of being the champion here. It's a great - he came out Thursday morning and saw the guys tee off. I mean, no one loves this tournament more than Phil does.

MODERATOR: In the back - I'm sorry.

HUNTER MAHAN: It's all right. I'm giving you guys compliments. (Laughter). I'm sure he wants to win the U.S. Open, but other than that, this is it for him. He totally feels like he can - no matter what's going on, turn around a bad round or a bad stretch or something. He absolutely knows he can, and he has complete faith in himself, and he knows this golf course so well that he's never out of it here.

Q. Can you talk about your personal relationship with Sean Foley and why it's led to such a good golfer/instructor working relationship?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think it's worked well, because Sean is a very - well, he's a smart guy, and he knows how to teach. He knows his swing. But I think a lot of guys know the golf swing. But he can teach it I think better than anybody else, and he teaches it to Tiger Woods and Justin Rose and Stephen Ames differently than he will teach me. He's just smart like that. He knows how to teach us and he knows how to talk to us. We just have a good you know, I trust him completely. I love his work ethic and he works extremely hard to know the golf swing better and to know the game better so he can teach it better; so we can always talk about it and try to figure out if something is not working how to do it better.

You know, he's just a fun guy to be around, and you know, in a lot of ways, I look up to him and I want to be more like him. You know, so he's just a good friend, but I appreciate his - the thing I most like about him is I appreciate his work ethic, because he works extremely hard at it. He's worked very hard at building himself up to this point, and you know, he deserves it because he's a hard - he's a great human being and he loves to teach. He really does.

Q. Has Phil talked to you about what it would take to get it done here and the other three times a year, have you talked about majors and have you talked about where you are in your life and what you have to offer on the golf course?

HUNTER MAHAN: Talked to who?

Q. Phil.

HUNTER MAHAN: Phil? Mickelson? No. (Laughter).

Q. No advice from him? He gives all that advice to Keegan?

HUNTER MAHAN: I guess so.

Q. I didn't know how well you knew him. Just curious.

HUNTER MAHAN: We haven't gotten that deep. I guess I'll (laughter) - I'll forget what you said there and ask him a few questions. We played a few practice rounds here and he has great knowledge about this place, and I picked his brain a little bit. He'll tell you, hit a putt from here down to this pin because it does something differently than it looks. He does stuff like that, but I haven't gotten too deep with him on how to win majors or anything because it's kind of different for everybody. The more you play, the more you figure out why these guys are always up there and why they are so good. It just takes a lot of hard work and putting yourself in good positions, and to learn from everything. Everything is a learning experience. You're going to learn, no matter what happens, good or bad.

Q. Is it your time?

HUNTER MAHAN: I don't know. There's only so much I can do. I can't control everything. I wish I could.

Q. Luke Donald kind of shot himself out of it today, and in here he said there's nothing worse than waking up on Sunday and knowing whatever you do it's not going to be good enough. What do you imagine tomorrow will be like for you?

HUNTER MAHAN: I guess I'll wake up excited that I have a chance to win; I think I will. I think guys won't run too far away. I'm looking forward to it. I think every golfer dreams of being in contention on Sunday at Augusta, and hopefully I can put myself back there. I know 2010 when I finished eighth, it was a great - it's really the best - I think the best spot in the course is standing on 15 fairway because you can see 15, you can see 16, you can see 17, you can see 14, and there's so much going on right there, there's so many people. It's the best view in golf. I'm excited. I'm excited that I have an opportunity with one round to go to shoot a good round and maybe win. But you know, it's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Just curious, you've won two events this year, the only guy on Tour who has done it. You kind of came in, quiet coming in, you talked about it being a relaxing week; you talk about feeling rested and feeling good. Has that been beneficial, all of the Rory/Tiger/Phil talk coming in? Has that been good for you in your preparation this week and your playing?

HUNTER MAHAN: I guess so. I mean, you try to remember what got you here and remember what is it going to take to win this week. And you try to give yourself the right amount of practice this week, because you want to work hard. You want to work harder maybe than any other event because you want to win. But there's a fine balance of working hard and getting enough rest and relaxing and realizing at the end of the day, it is just another tournament, and you can't want it too much, because if you want it too much, it's going to be too hard to get.

It's just finding a balance this week. It's all about balance, and if I can have that right balance of wanting it but enjoying it at the same time - you know, I'm going to give myself a good shot. You know, whether anyone talks about me or not, it shouldn't really affect how I play or how I think of myself, because I always have to keep working. This game is, if anything, will always let you know that you don't have it figured out and you've always got to keep working.

Q. With your success this year, do you think you've made people forget that Ryder Cup chip, and if not, what will it take for people to stop talking about and showing that clip?

HUNTER MAHAN: Well, obviously I've not made you forget. If you can tell me what I'm supposed to do, I'll try to do it. It just seems to keep living with me, and I don't know why. I honestly don't know why. I know they kept replaying it at the Match Play, and then I beat Rory, but that didn't seem to do much good, because you're asking me about it now. I don't know what it's going to take. I couldn't tell you.

Q. Here, do you hear about it?

HUNTER MAHAN: I get killed on Twitter all the time, usually mostly from European guys who - it's pretty funny. A guy said something, and I just got tired of it. So I said, "Well, I guess beating Rory McIlroy didn't do much good." He goes, "Of course not." I was like, well, there you go. You know, I have no idea what it's going to take for people to forget that. I guess it was a big moment, I guess. I guess I sucked at it. (Laughter). I don't know. I don't know. I just couldn't tell you what it's going to take, because I don't think it will - I don't think winning by 10 tomorrow will make anyone forget. I don't know. I just don't. I couldn't tell you. I wish I knew.

Q. Could you address the relationship between confidence and winning? Is it chicken and egg thing? Do you get confident and win, or if you win, do you get that much more confidence?

HUNTER MAHAN: If you don't think you can win, you're never going to win. You've got to think you can win. Because it's like a bad putter waiting for you to make putts to get confidence and say, okay, I'm a good putter now. If you don't think you're going to make putts, you're just got going to make putts. You've got to believe. You've got to work hard and you've got to find a way to believe and you've got to - whatever that is. If you don't believe, then it's just not going to happen. It can only take you - talent can only take you so far if you don't believe. I don't think it's a chicken and egg thing. If you think it's very obvious, if you think you are going to win and you believe it and you put all of the work in, it's probably going to happen some day.

Q. The last two years, you've elevated your game; was there a specific sort of incident or example that you can point to or turning point in your career, was the Ryder Cup experience sort of beneficial in some sort of strange way or something away from the golf course that changed things for you?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think it's I don't know if it's been a moment. But it's definitely been a progression of, as a player, there's a fine line of stubbornness, of believing you're right; but then also, finding other people that help new other avenues; saying, you know what, I don't thin this guy is working, I want to go another angle because I want to get better. You can't be afraid of change, you just can't be afraid of it. As great as stubbornness is, believing you're right, believing that you're doing the right thing, you kind of have to step away and kind of listen to somebody else and maybe make a change.

You can't be afraid of that. So I'm trying to not be afraid of change and trying to find a way to get better. Because if you're not getting better in this game, you're getting worse. But I don't think there's been a moment; I just keep thinking of, how am I going to get better, how am I going to get better today, what am I supposed to do. That's all I've thought about. And that's led me to doing a lot of different things and trying to make golf not as important as it used to be. I don't want a good round to determine my happiness. I don't want a bad round to determine my happiness. I just want to be happy and enjoy in my life, because there' s not a whole lot to be upset about. I don't want a bad chip to ruin my day. I don't want that to happen, I just want to move on from that.

Like I say, I moved on from that, I thought. I thought the best thing I've done - I've played pretty good since. I've had a pretty good Presidents Cup and won twice this year, and I think because of - I think I'm going to learn a lot from that experience, just because, heck, I could have gotten in a shell and been upset about it and dwelled on it. It was a great experience, man. I was in the last group at the Ryder Cup. What an incredible experience. All of these people; I have never seen anything like that. So, it was a great experience and I took a lot of good from that. That might have helped me because then I started saying, you know what, I'm not going to let someone else determine my success. I'll determine my own success after a round, after a tournament, and then I can move on from that.

Q. Talk about your day out there.

HUNTER MAHAN: I thought there was some accessible pins, especially 11 is pretty wide open right now. There's some pins you've just got to play away from. That's not a green light pin. You've got to stay away. Like on 10, you can't get fancy there; you've got to hit it left and give yourself a putt. On 1 the pin is back right; even though it looks like you can scoot it up there, it's not accessible; just hit it short and make your pars. I thought we did a good job of playing smart and just taking par when it's there. But we played the par 5s well, and if you play the par 5s well here you've got a chance.

Q. How do you explain your low score today?

HUNTER MAHAN: I'm making some putts. Ball striking can only take you so far. Golf so to win tournaments, to be a major champion you've got to do everything right and you've got to very well. Maybe not perfect; you don't have to be the best chipper or driver or iron, you've just got to do it well because you're going to have those moments where you're going to need to hit a big chip or make a good putt or hit a good drive. You don't have to be perfect but just good enough.

Q. Are you as close as you've ever been to being ready to win a major?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think so, yeah. I believe so. I believe that mentally and physically I have the maturity to go out there tomorrow and play well.

Q. Talk about the round, how you got yourself right back in this tournament.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, played solid. I played - I felt like we were very much in it at even par, it was just going to take a good round. I made a nice birdie on 2, I made a nice birdie on 5. Hit a really good shot in there, just kind of a silly bogey at 7. But like I said, played the par 5s well, made a nice up and down on 9 that kind of kept the round going, kind of kept my momentum going. But like I said, I think we played very smart today. We didn't really try to be aggressive when it wasn't there.

Q. You've won in big spots. What do you expect from yourself tomorrow?

HUNTER MAHAN: The only thing I want to do tomorrow is just be very, very much in the moment and stay in it all day long and just play as close to one shot at a time as I can and try to take as much time out there to enjoy it, because it's pretty special.

Q. (Inaudible.)

HUNTER MAHAN: I totally agree, especially in a major, because it's amped up. It's amped up a little more, and you feel it. You feel it every foot, every footstep. Try to enjoy it and just relax and just play golf because hopefully you'll wake up tomorrow and start again and try to practice and try to win the next tournament. This isn't my last tournament, so hopefully it's not my last Masters. So I just want to try to keep playing. Like I said, this is a great position to be in. There's nothing to be nervous about right now.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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