Rude: Keep an eye on Mahan at Augusta

Hunter Mahan

ORLANDO, Fla. – Even though he’s had a couple of chipping breakdowns in the past six months (at the Ryder Cup and WGC-Accenture Match Play) and a good short game is vital at Augusta National, Hunter Mahan merits occupancy on the early short list of 2011 Masters threats.

Mahan is rounding into form at the right time and has finished in the top 10 at the past two Masters. He’s high up on the leaderboard again after an opening 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Already he has four top 10s this year, all on difficult tracks – including T-6 at Torrey Pines, second at Pebble Beach and ninth at Doral. He led that last one after 54 holes but slipped back after a closing 73.

Mahan’s short game isn’t as poor as those two high-profile flubbed chips might indicate. He’s 66th on the PGA Tour in scrambling, getting up and down 61.5 percent of the time.

What’s more, his ball-striking and attitude seem to be improving. His 3-under-par 69 on a difficult Bay Hill course Thursday was fueled by ball-striking, included a two-putt eagle at 16, and was soiled by two three-putts.

“Ball-striking has been nice,” Mahan said afterward. “I was a little shaky early in the year, but I’m finally getting my groove and getting comfortable with the golf swing.”

Then there’s the conscious effort to improve his outlook on the course. The plan is to stop beating himself up mentally after a poor shot.

“I felt like if I wanted to be a top-5 player in the world, someone who can go out there and win majors, I have to add a better, more consistent attitude week-in and week-out,” said Mahan, who works with sports psychologist Neal Smith. “I couldn’t be so judgmental on one shot or one hole. We play so much golf, you don’t realize how beat down you can get if you’re so tough on yourself. I need to go out there and relax and just kind of let my game come out and just really just let it flow. Try to get some sort of rhythm out there and trust myself and enjoy playing golf. I’m quick to be critical of myself, but I’ve got to learn to pump myself up a little bit and get excited when I’m swinging well.”

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