Mahan's big putt on 17th silences rowdy fans

Hunter Mahan of the U.S. celebrates making a putt to win the match during the Day Three afternoon four-ball matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

Hunter Mahan of the U.S. celebrates making a putt to win the match during the Day Three afternoon four-ball matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

MELBOURNE, Australia – No, it can’t match the contentiousness of The Belfry (pick a year) or the combativeness of Kiawah Island (1991) – thank goodness, to tell the truth – but late in the third day of matches, the Presidents Cup got a little bit of the edge that helps separate this stuff from the routine stroke-play golf we are used to.

That it involved Hunter Mahan on the positive end is intriguing, given that the last time he was in the middle of this sort of event, he was being consoled for a chip gone bad. That was last year’s Ryder Cup, a singles loss to Graeme McDowell that decided things in Europe’s favor. He’s not ready to say that his putt on the 17th hole at Royal Melbourne late Saturday will erase that memory, but he’s content that it put a point in the American column.

Oh, and that it silenced a few chirpy fans to the back of the 17th green.

“They kept talking, right up to when I putted. I mean, come on,” Mahan said, still shaking from the drama that closed out a victory for he and Bill Haas over the International Team’s spirited countrymen, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley.

“It felt like we were playing all of Australia,” Mahan said. “But that’s great. It got the fans into it. They were singing all day.”

So, no, Mahan didn’t mind it at all when at the 17th, Day’s bomb of a birdie putt – measured at 31 feet, though it felt like 310 – sent thunderous roars from one side of this magnificent golf course to the other. Having lost the 16th hole to fall 2 down, Day and Baddeley were up against it, but still fighting to secure at least a half-point. Ahead of them, three home teams (Retief Goosen and Charl Schwartzel; K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang; Geoff Ogilvy and K.J. Choi) were doing positive things and there was good reason to think the Internationals could make amends for having lost four of five points in the morning foursomes.

Day’s birdie roll was a huge step in that direction. There was still hopes of a half-point and of Adam Scott and Ernie Els rallying to win the fifth game, so a 11 1/2 - 10 1/2 score was possible.

“I was so excited,” Day said, and he leaped perhaps 5 feet, a reaction that got the Aussie fans singing. Clad in gold shirts, gold and green high socks, and green berets, a group of six or seven mates let loose. Mahan didn’t mind that, but the men to the back of the green were a different story.

Annoying that they were, Mahan tried to focus on the job at hand.

“Right before Jason putted, Hunter told me, ‘Be prepared to make your putt,’ “ Haas said. Not that he had to be told, because Haas knows the golden rule in match play – that you always must expect your opponent to make it. Yet, Haas concedes that there was a bit of a jolt when Day’s roll fell. Suddenly, the American team knew its one point was not a lock and Haas said his 6-footer for birdie felt like it was twice as long.

Thankfully, he never had to putt, because in a cold, rainy twilight, Mahan, after trying to block out the fans to the back of the green, slam-dunked the game-winner from 20 feet for a 2-and-1 triumph. (Jim Furyk and Nick Watney held off Scott and Els in the final match to account for the Americans’ 13-9 edge.)

“Man, you can’t putt. You can’t putt a lick,” said Tiger Woods, as he embraced Mahan greenside at the 17th. Then Woods laughed and ribbed Mahan about the reaction after the putt – he slammed the putter to the green, pumped his fist, and turned toward the chatty guys who had given him a hard time.

“We’ve got to work on that celebration,” Woods said.

Mahan laughed and conceded he probably looked a bit awkward. Then he explained to Woods that he was staring down the noise-makers that he had played with Aussie celebratory songs in his ear all day.

Woods, who knows a thing or two or three about boisterous fans, smiled and slapped Mahan on the back.

“OK, I accept it then,” Woods said.

Mahan just smiled. And kept shaking – from the cold, yes, but mostly from the excitement he had just authored.

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