- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

Hunter Mahan started Sunday’s final round at the AT&T; National six shots out of the lead and with a self-imposed mandate to go low.

By the time he had taken care of much of his end of things, he received an unexpected message at the 13th hole.

“Some guy said, ‘You’re tied for the lead now,’ ” Mahan said. “I knew then.”

From there, it was a matter of continuing onfla his way to matching Anthony Kim’s course record of 62 at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club.

And then a wait. A long wait, spent both in the locker room and on the driving range as Tiger Woods made a birdie at No. 16 to secure a one-shot victory over Mahan.

“What Hunter did was pretty impressive,” Woods said. “I didn’t see that score out there today.”

It was an impressive turnaround for Mahan, who finally parlayed his strong shooting into a low round after starting the tournament 69-69-68.

“It just kind of beats you up because you’re hitting it so good and getting nothing out of it,” Mahan said. “To hit the good shots and make the putts in the final round like I did feels nice.”

He wasted no time putting a dent into the edge Woods and Kim carried into the final round. He made birdie putts inside 12 feet at Nos. 1, 4 and 8 to creep onto the leader board at about the time the leaders teed off.

Still, he needed more from a putter that wasn’t overwhelming earlier in the week. Those wishes came to fruition at the 10th, where he drilled an 18-footer, and then with a 36-foot bomb at No. 13.

“I needed to shoot a 62 like I did to even have a chance,” Mahan said. “I wasn’t worried about it. I just wanted to get some putts early.”

That put Mahan, who was coming off a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open and a tie for fourth at the Travelers Championship, in position to inflict further damage. Yet a bogey at the 14th presented the potential for derailment even as Woods and Kim still had more than half the course to play.

Mahan, though, stuck his approach shot at the 15th within three feet, connecting for birdie to get back to 10 under.

“I didn’t really commit to it the way I should have,” Mahan said. “Last year, I think I made bogey there and bogey on the next hole,” said Mahan, who tied for eighth and 12th at Congressional the past two years. “I made bogey there [at No. 14] and I just said, ‘It’s far from over. Calm down, relax and play golf.’ Then I hit two great shots on 15 and made birdie.”

Indeed, it was far from over. After squandering a chance at No. 16, the last par 5 on the course, Mahan responded by dropping birdie putts of 19 and 14 feet to reach 12 under and apply some pressure to the tournament host.

Trouble was, he wasn’t on the course to do more. He retreated to the dining area near the locker room, where Woods’ wife, Elin, was also sitting. Mahan settled in to watch what he figured could turn into a Woods runaway.

Instead, he remained in a share of the lead a little longer than expected.

“When he missed on 14, I yelled ‘Yes’ in a joking manner,” Mahan said. “I wasn’t rooting against him or anything, but it was funny because you usually don’t see him miss putts.”

Eventually, Woods made an important one, leaving Mahan still searching for his second career victory. But the 27-year-old did his part, summoning a round four strokes better than anyone else on the final day.

“For me, I felt it was out there today,” Mahan said.

A title nearly was, too.

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