PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — The swing was efficient as ever, and the ball soared toward the far end of the range with a tight draw as Hunter Mahan held his pose.
And then he twirled his club. Did you see that?” swing coach Sean Foley said Tuesday, admiring the twirl as much as the shot. “He’s not a twirler.”
Foley usually sees that from one of his other pupils — Tiger Woods.
Mahan goes about his golf with less fanfare.
But there was an ease with how Mahan went about his work at what would seem to be a most critical time, perhaps because he feels as if he has nothing to lose.
Mahan is the only player who has never missed a FedEx Cup playoff event since this lucrative series began in 2007. He has played so consistently well that he has never come seriously close to missing a playoff event.
“That’s a lot of good golf for a lot of years, and I’m pretty proud of that,” Mahan said. “It means a lot. It means I’ve been consistent. I haven’t had too many bad days or many bad weeks. It’s a different challenge this year.”
Mahan goes into The Barclays at No. 62, which means he is assured of at least playing the next two weeks. He will have to do something right at Ridgewood or next week at the TPC Boston to advance to the third playoff event in Denver, and keep any hope of getting back to East Lake.
He hasn’t won a tournament since the Shell Houston Open in 2012, one week before the Masters. His last good chance to win was at the Canadian Open just over a year ago, when Mahan had the 36-hole lead and withdrew so he could be with his wife for the birth of their daughter, Zoe.
Mahan is not the only player going through an ordinary year.
Mickelson did not have a top 10 on the PGA Tour until his runner-up finish two weeks at the PGA Championship, which at least secured his spot on a 10th straight Ryder Cup team and moved him up to No. 55 in the FedEx Cup, making his road to East Lake a little more manageable. Brandt Snedeker, the FedEx Cup champion two years ago, recently changed coaches and is at No. 55. Luke Donald, a former world No. 1, has gone nearly two years without winning and is at No. 66.
Mahan can’t put a finger on what has gone wrong — or what hasn’t gone right.
“I don’t feel like it’s been bad — some of it has been bad,” he said. “I just haven’t played my best.”
Mahan, whose five PGA Tour wins include a pair of World Golf Championships, got used to performing consistently well for a long time. He was on every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team for five straight years. He played in the final group in back-to-back majors last year.
Somewhere along the way, he wonders if he forgot what got him there.
“This has been a chance for me to look at myself,” he said. “Am I doing it efficiently? Am I getting the most out of it every day? Am I getting the most out of Sean Foley, out of (caddie) John Wood, out of Ping? Or am I just skating by?”
Mahan believes he has been guilty of the latter.
“You get in a routine, the play pretty good,” he said. “It’s great to make the Presidents Cup teams and the Ryder Cup teams. Sometimes you get complacent and a little lazy. I think there’s a lot more I can do.”
Time is not running out on Mahan. He is only 32. But time is running out on his season.
It’s a far different challenge from the one two years ago. He started pressing toward the end of the summer and missed the cut at the PGA Championship to finish one spot out of making the Ryder Cup team. He missed the cut in one playoff event, was middle of the pack in the next one and was left off the team.
This time, he wasn’t even close.
Mahan had a 65-67 weekend at Valhalla to tie for seventh in the PGA Championship — his first top 10 since Doral — and finished No. 25 in the Ryder Cup standings. These next two weeks will go a long way toward impressing Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson and getting one of the three picks.
That means going back to the small details that he feels he has overlooked. It’s paying attention to his posture, his setup and his position at the top of the swing — on the range Tuesday, in the pro-am Wednesday, in the tournament Thursday.
“It’s today. Do a good job today,” he said. “Take every shot like it’s a very important shot.”
And then he can only hope he gets to keep playing — all four weeks of the FedEx Cup, maybe even a trip to Scotland for the Ryder Cup.
Another swing produced another majestic shot. He didn’t twirl his club this time.
“I can’t waste all my twirls,” Mahan said with a smile. “It’s only Tuesday.”
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