ARDMORE, Pa. — If you blinked you might've missed it, but for one brief shining moment yesterday afternoon Hunter Mahan found himself alone atop the leader board here at the U.S. Open at fabled Merion. Just moments later Justin Rose holed a 20-footer for birdie to draw even.
It proved an omen. Rose, deadlocked with Mahan and birthday boy Phil Mickelson with just three holes to play, shrugged off the pressure to par in the rest of the way while the others faltered down the stretch to win the Open by two shots over Mickelson and Australian Jason Day.
Mahan, desperately trying to something happen at the end, finished with a double bogey and back-to-back bogeys to wind up in a four-way tie for 4th at five-over. Yet, disappointed as he was, the former OSU standout wouldn't let it detract from his overall experience.
“I played hard until the end and can't be disappointed or too down with the results,'' said the 31-year-old Mahan, who at least did get bragging rights over fellow former Cowboy Rickie Fowler, who tied for 10th at seven-over. “It was brutally hard; a difficult test.
“It was rowdy and different today playing with Phil. I probably heard ‘Happy Birthday' 18 times.
“But it was fun.”
And something Mahan insists will benefit him in the long run.
“I stepped onto the tee today not knowing I was going to win,'' said Mahan, who, after starting the day one off Mickelson's pace at even par, had 13 pars and a single bogey before he unraveled over the final four holes. “I left the 18th green knowing I could win, so it's all good.
“Being in the last group is important. It's different than any other event, but it's not different from playing golf.
“You have to go out there and do it. Dealing with adrenaline and excitement it's good to be there, because every time you get back there again you feel a little more calm.''
As for that time he had the lead to himself, Mahan says he didn't even notice, it was still so early in the round.
“There's no point when you're on the fifth or sixth hole,” said Mahan, who'll likely next give it a shot next month at Muirfield in the British Open. “You have no idea then what it's going to be.”
“It wasn't fun on the last three holes. Phil and I had great chances on 16 to birdie, but neither of us could make it.”
Meanwhile, for a short spell Fowler, who started the day three-over after shooting a 67, seemed to be climbing into contention. But he, too, faded late.
“I just didn't finish the round like I wanted to,'' said Fowler, who stood one over through 14, before bogeying three of the last four holes to shoot 74.
“At a U.S. Open you have to be patient. It's not one particular shot, it's every shot. You have to give each shot 100 percent of your focus and concentration. But still all in all, it was a great week, and my best finish in an Open.”
Among the others with Oklahoma State connections, Bo Van Pelt shot a 75 for the day to finish tied for 21st at 11-over, while Edward Loar's 76 earned him a tie with among others, Tiger Woods at 13-over.
But the one who'll go home wondering what might've been will undoubtedly by Mahan.
“I played great,” Mahan said. “I tried hard.
“It was tough finishing. But that's golf.''