Hunter Mahan Shoots 64 Sunday and Surges To Victory at Firestone

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2010

AKRON, OH - AUGUST 08:  Hunter Mahan hits  second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships - Bridgestone Invitational on the South Course at Firestone Country Club on August 8, 2010 in Akron, Ohio.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

When Sean O'Hair drained two early birdie putts in the final round at the WGC-Invitational at Firestone Country Club, his lead seemed nearly out of grasp. However, O'Hair's fellow Texan and childhood golf partner Hunter Mahan believed otherwise, shooting a six-under-par 64, surging to his second win of this 2010 PGA Tour season.

Mahan's bogey-free final round featured a red hot front nine where he needed only 13 putts en route to five birdies. On his back nine, though, he got himself into trouble with a couple errants shots. Mahan was unflappable, however, and recovered like a true champion.

The 28-year-old Texan found his two shot lead over Ryan Palmer in jeopardy on the par-five 16th hole when he went for the green in two from 230 yards over water. He flared his shot over the right side of the green, soaring past dozens of fans. After bouncing off the concrete path, the ball unexpectedly landed in a flower bed that didn't even look to be in play. However, after using his free lateral drop, Mahan chipped his ball just past the green then two-putted to save par.

One of the most crucial ingredients to Mahan's success was his reliable accuracy off the tee. He ranks second in Total Driving on Tour—a stat that combines Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy—and consistently put himself in position to be aggressive and make birdies. Mahan's exceptional round was also highlighted by his excellent ability to read both the speed and break of Firestone's slippery, quick greens.

Though O'Hair was the favorite heading into the final round, his two early birdies were countered by three bogeys down the stretch, ultimately leading to a one-over-par 71 and a T-five finish. Ryan Palmer, who shot a one-under-par 69, was on Mahan's tail for the majority of the back nine, but when his putter went cold, his chances of hoisting the trophy diminished.

Retief Goosen found his rhythm with the putter Sunday, recording an eagle, four birdies, and just a single bogey en route to his 65 and T-third finish along with Bo Van Pelt. Jim Furyk shot the low round of the day after making an eagle, six birdies and two bogeys for a seven-under-par 63 and T-sixth finish with Jeff Overton.

After recording four consecutive rounds in the 60's, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy finished five under par, T-ninth, and carded his fourth top-10 finish of the season. Also at five-under-par were Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar, and this year's British Open champion Louis Oosthiuzen, who fired a final round five-under-par 65.

Considering Tiger Woods couldn't tell his putter from his driver this week at Firestone, Phil Mickelson was given the golden opportunity to claim the No. 1 World Ranking with a top-four finish.

However, the golf gods had other ideas.

Lefty couldn't find a fairway, hit a green, or sink a putt en route to his disastrous eighth-over-par 78, finishing three-over-par and T-46.

Hunter Mahan's victory officially deemed him a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but more importantly, illuminated what a viable threat he has the potential to be at next week's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits Golf Course.