Mahan Motivated by Underdog Status


After securing a 2-and-1 victory over Rory McIlroy in the final match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Hunter Mahan revealed that he was fired up to disappoint the folks who considered the young Northern Irishman the favorite.

Mahan, the hottest player during the tournament at Ritz-Carlton GC, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., carding 35 birdies over 96 holes, heard the chants supporting McIlroy and used that for motivation. Mahan also knew that a McIlroy victory would move the 22-year-old to golf's No. 1 ranking, something Mahan didn't want to contribute to.

(The new rankings show Luke Donald still on top, with McIlroy right behind in second and Lee Westwood ranked third. Mahan is now No. 9.)

"Deep down you wanted to postpone that crowning of the No.1 player in the world for Rory (laughter)," said the 29-year-old Mahan. "He'll get there. I mean he's phenomenal. He's really talented. He'll be No.1 eventually. I'm not worried about it.

"I'm sure he's not. But, yeah, for sure, when you're a player and I listen to (TV commentators) Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo and all those guys, they had him picked to win. There was no doubt about it. And that's what everybody was talking about."

Here's what else Mahan had to tell reporters about his second WGC victory and the fourth win of his career.

MODERATOR: Let's welcome our 2012 Accenture Match Play Championship winner, Hunter Mahan. Sounds good, I'm sure, your second World Golf Championship title, and only second person to do that before they're 30. Give us some quick reactions and we'll take some questions.

HUNTER MAHAN: Yeah, boy, it feels good. It feels good. It's been I didn't realize how difficult it is to win this week because it is six matches and you're playing against the best players in the world. I had to beat Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker, Y.E. Yang, and Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, all tough players, all tough match play players. It feels good because you're going against the game's best. I played well from tee to green, putting to chipping to driving, irons, everything was there. I needed everything to win. It feels good. I'm very proud of how I played. It feels great. It really does.

Q. I think we talked about this at the Presidents Cup, but just about your change of attitude over the last year or so. When I asked Sean Foley about it, he said it had to do with Kandi and getting married. Can you go through that? Have you had a better attitude on the golf course?

HUNTER MAHAN: I do a lot of things. If I wanted to be the player that I felt like I could be, I was going to have to change. I had to take it easy on myself, not try - basically not try so hard. I didn't want to have my identity stuck with my golf score. They needed to be separated, and I needed to play golf because I enjoyed it and accept the result and move on and not get attached to it. I was too attached to how I played and my results. And I didn't want to do that anymore. I just wanted to play golf and put all the hard work in and leave it at the course and enjoy it. It's too hard when you put too much pressure on it. And I was trying too hard. I'm trying to take a step back and play golf and try to get better and get rid of the attachment.

Q. When did you come to this when do you think you started to make the change?

HUNTER MAHAN: Beginning of last year, I was working on it, working on it. And I think the end near The Presidents Cup and after that I started - I've started really taking it to the course and actually using it, using all the information that I had. And just - I think after the Tour Championship, my reaction there probably surprised a lot of people. But it was because I found out that I played great and there's no reason to be upset. There's always good in every day. If you play bad, there's probably some good you can find out and something you can learn from. And that's what I do. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to learn from every round, good or bad and use it going forward.

Q. There is so much attention on this side battle for No.1 with Lee and Rory, especially Rory. How much did you sense that? How much did it motivate you at all? And there was still probably a little bit more Rory chanting in the early holes than it was Hunter. Was there any inspiration or motivation from that?

HUNTER MAHAN: I'd be lying to you if there wasn't. There really was. Deep down you wanted to postpone that crowning of the No.1 player in the world for Rory (laughter). He'll get there. I mean he's phenomenal. He's really talented. He'll be No.1 eventually. I'm not worried about it. I'm sure he's not. But, yeah, for sure, when you're a player and I listen to Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo and all those guys, they had him picked to win. There was no doubt about it. And that's what everybody was talking about. I didn't think about it when I'm on the course, I'm just going to play well. But there was absolute motivation in that. I think there hasn't been an American player to win this in a while. It feels good. It really does.

Q. You were really strong on your putting, on your short game yesterday. So I was wondering if that putt from off the green on 15, was that because it was the best play or because you were having second thoughts about your short came?

HUNTER MAHAN: I thought that was the best play. That pin is kind of a tricky pin. My touch with my putting has been pretty awesome this week. I haven't three putted much. I had great feel with it. And kind of at that time where Rory is, I felt that gave me the best chance to make it. It was right on the line. Once it got over the mound, I thought it would go in, but I thought that was the best play.

Q. Rory talked about that he focused all his energy last night on the semifinals. I was wondering how you approached the day in terms of just focusing on the semifinal. Did you let your mind drift to the final at all or how did you approach last night and going into this morning?

HUNTER MAHAN: No doubt I had to focus on playing the first match, playing against Mark. That's really my only concern. I didn't know who I was going to play, anyway, so Mark was a tough opponent, which he was. He played fairways and greens like I thought he would. You can tell he's not afraid of anybody. I'd be very excited to play with him. I told him I hope we both make the Ryder Cup teams. Because it's pretty obvious nothing faces him. Nothing intimidates him. I knew he wouldn't be intimidated by me. We had a great match and he's a great player, so I knew I'd put everything I had into that and move on from there. And I had to go against Rory, and I put everything I had into that match. It's pretty simple: Every match played here is going to be against a top player, and you have to play your best.

Q. It seemed like maybe the telling hole was 7. You just missed that green and he seemed like he had a slight opening. You were 1 up at the time. He followed you right down to the bottom of that ditch, just wondering if you were surprised he didn't make it a safer play and kind of do the high percentage thing and make you prove your wedge game has improved?

HUNTER MAHAN: When he told me the number, it was a perfect wedge. I was licking my chops, loving it. The wind kind of switched on us. I hit the shot and I was in the air, loving every second of it. And you could tell the fans - it seemed like it got stuck up there, and I think Rory's did, too. It's not a real simple green, but it's not one where you want to hit it short left, I can promise you that. Once he hit it short again, I knew I just couldn't be - I've got to get on the green and give myself at least a putt at it. It was still going to be a difficult up and down from where we were, it just wasn't easy. And that was definitely a momentum changer, for sure, no question.

Q. You've won - do you look at things and say you won four times, I should be winning more or you've won two of these World Golf Championships against the best in the world and you take more out of that?

HUNTER MAHAN: To be the player I want to be, you have to win more. That's how you separate players. That's when you talk about players, how many majors have they won, how many tournaments have they won. I felt like I was capable of winning more than four, but that's what I have right now. And I feel like I'm doing all the right things. I've worked the last years hard with Sean Foley. He's been a huge, huge impact in my life and in my golf game. And I'm fortunate to be with him and excited about what we're going to do in the future. But I have to - you've got to win. That's all you guys talk about. It's all the players talk about, whether you win or not. I feel like I'm doing the right steps to become a more consistent player and hopefully win more.

Q. What does that say about two of those wins being WGCs? Making you think too hard?

HUNTER MAHAN: I think it's - I don't know, I'm excited about it, for sure. Like I said, it's a goal of mine. Since I've gotten two, I'd like to win them all. I think they're the prettiest trophy in the game. I think they're pretty cool looking for sure. It would be pretty to have them all in my house. That's a goal of mine. But to have two, it feels nice. No question when you play a WGC event, it's the best players in the world. It's not just in the U.S.; it's in the world. And you saw a lot of them come from Asia this week, and there are a lot of studs over there. So this feels pretty special. It's hard to get lucky in this week, because you're going to play such great players every single round.

Q. Do you remember specifically what you did to cycle down and then cycle back up on such a short time span to get back in that second match? Rory said he had a difficult time getting back up for this second match. So what did you do?

HUNTER MAHAN: Well, I tried to after I got done with the first match, I tried to get in and eat and kind of start over. No question because it is - he's going to have a tough match against Lee. I knew Mark was going to be tough. If you thought ahead, you were going to get beat. Those are two good players. I kind of just sat down, ate, talked to Kandi, got away from golf as much as we could. And from there I just started thinking about the next match. And I tried to just visualize myself out there and bringing the energy. No question you could go out there, start a little slow, a little lethargic, which we kind of both looked like for the first few holes. And against a great player it's easy to be 2 down after 3, if you start that way. I knew that was going to be a big key to me to get into the round immediately, and that was the key all week. Because you just can't go two or three down against some of these players. You're going to get beaten. So bring the energy, and bring the focus on every single shot is going to be very important. That's what I try to do and that's brought me to the point. I took two deep breaths and realized the match was over and this is the beginning of another one. So keep focused and bring the energy.

Q. A lot of people would question your decision to go to Qatar. Can you talk about this five week stretch you've been on? And secondly, any redemption in winning in Arizona?

HUNTER MAHAN: I have had two of my wins in Arizona. I'll tell you how that feels: It feels good to win in Arizona (laughter). I really - I actually enjoy desert golf. The decision for Qatar was kind of maybe curiosity, if anything else. I played a PGA Tour schedule for nine years now, pretty much from start to finish. And to have the opportunity to go to Qatar was something I just couldn't pass up. I want to experience golf in another place. And what I found was I was kind of testing myself, too, because it's impressive how these guys travel from place to place all over the world and play great. Luke Donald won both money lists on both Tours. It's an impressive fete. So it was testing myself in a big way to go to Qatar. I don't regret it at all. I didn't play great over there, but the experience was incredible. Just meeting the people over there, experiencing the culture was a ton of fun. I came back at Pebble and thought I played pretty well there. And played pretty well at LA, just didn't putt as well.

And this week, fifth in a row feels pretty good, because it's kind of a test for yourself, from an energy perspective and a mental strength to keep going every single match. The first match was difficult, actually, against Zach because I was a little bit tired. I wasn't swinging - I just didn't feel as good as I wanted to. After I got over that and I realized I'm here, I've got to put forth my best effort and bring the energy in every single shot, because I wasn't doing that. It was totally an experience, totally worth it and I'm very glad I did it.

Q. I'm curious what's going through your mind when he holes that chip on 11. Did you get any sense that was a possible change?

HUNTER MAHAN: I saw some highlights. I thought he was due for a chip in. I saw him make a bunch of lip outs this week. It was a pretty straightforward chip. He made it right in there. I didn't let it bother me or anything. I thought he played a great hole. And if I kept playing solid and forcing him to make eagles to win holes, I was going to do my job. And that's all I could do. I thought 13 was big. If he won that hole then, you know, I think momentum definitely would have changed. But to kind of get up and down from that bunker, make that next putt, that kind of slowed it down for him a little bit. And then the up and down on 15 was big, too.

MODERATOR: Congratulations, Hunter. Thank you.

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


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