Mahan undergoes role reversal at Prez Cup

Hunter Mahan of the U.S. celebrates with Aussie fans on the 17th hole after the Day Four singles matches of the 2011 Presidents Cup.

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MELBOURNE, Australia – It is nearly 14 hours to fly from this fair city to the United States. But that is nothing compared to the endless flight Hunter Mahan took last fall, the one from Wales.

Such is the difference between winning and losing, of succeeding with your talents against coming up short. The thrill of victory will ride far easier across the world than anguish will over the Atlantic Ocean.

So while Mahan has learned to accept last year’s Ryder Cup heartache at Celtic Manor, he doesn’t deny that this year’s Presidents Cup success will not require any sort of adjustment period. No chip was fatted, no final match lost, no spot reserved for him in international folklore.

Instead, in going 4-1 at Royal Melbourne, Mahan in three different matches never had to go beyond the 15th hole. Twice with David Toms, Mahan posted dominating foursomes wins; in fourballs, he rolled alongside Bill Haas; and in Sunday’s singles, Mahan took advantage of shockingly shoddy play by Jason Day to post a 5-and-3 victory.

Together with Jim Furyk (5-0) and David Toms (3-1), Mahan provided a dependable nucleus for captain Fred Couples, which is why as a brilliant sunshine blanketed Royal Melbourne, the 29-year-old American was at a place totally on the other side of the spectrum from where he was at Celtic Manor.

But, no, he couldn’t say that this victory, a 19-15 result that wasn’t as close as it sounds, will wipe away memories of last fall’s match against Graeme McDowell. Mahan came up woefully short of the par-3 17th green, flubbed his chip, made bogey, and made McDowell’s Cup-clinching victory that much easier.

It happened, time has passed, but he cannot forget.

“It’s weird,” Mahan said. “I don’t know if it was a historic moment, but it was a rare moment to have it come down to one hole. I’ll always remember it because it was a great experience. It was fun to be part of that (Wales) atmosphere, a fun week. It didn’t work out the best for me, but that’s OK. Not everything does.”

True enough, but surely this week did. Whether he played brilliantly (as he did Thursday) or just solidly (as he did in the Sunday singles), everything landed on the upside for Mahan.

How good did things go?

In singles, he played the front nine in 2-over 37 – and was 5 up.

You read correctly: 5 up. Mahan got into such a power position by watching his opponent, Day, struggle mightily with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. Having returned to his native Australia for the first time in five years, Day had a mixed bag in team play – a win, two losses, a halve – and in the fifth slot he was expected to help boost early momentum.

He failed miserably, an even more painful reality because each of the first four matches were International blue.

Day?

His mood was blue, bogeys on three of the first four holes being followed by double-bogeys at the sixth and seventh. Then he bogeyed the eighth and ninth to go out in 44, which wouldn’t get the job down in the C-Flight at your club championship, never mind against a world-class player of Mahan’s ilk.

That is why Mahan had to merely make sure he didn’t trip and turn an ankle, why he didn’t even need to make a birdie through 13 holes to sit 3 up. When he finally made a birdie, at the par-3 14th, and followed it with one at the 15th, the party was on.

For four days, Mahan had perhaps heard from the fans more than any of his teammates. The suspicion is, Mahan is an easy target based on the heartache of Celtic Manor. If so, he’ll accept it and focus on a formula he figured could combat the abuse: play well.

When late in Saturday’s four-ball session he heard fans talking and trying to disrupt his putting routine on the 17th green, Mahan slam-dunked a 20-footer to seal a victory for him and Haas.

“I didn’t think about (Celtic Manor) much,” Mahan said. “But yesterday I heard those guys and I wanted to shut them up.”

But now, the good roll at Royal Melbourne, satisfying as it is, will never wipe away the memories of the 2010 Ryder Cup.

“It was a different situation,” Mahan said.

Yet if anyone can sympathize with what Mahan went through last year, it is Day, the talented Aussie who was at a loss to explain just why he played so poorly. Five down through eight, Day tried his best, but couldn’t turn things around.

“I just didn’t want to go out there and quit on the team,” Day said. “The guys were expecting me to win.”

He didn’t, and yet again, neither did the Internationals.

Continued frustration for them and it will be up to them to sort things out before 2013 at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

Mahan is proof positive that things do change.

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