Mahan did it his way

American Hunter Mahan acknowledges the gallery after finishing on the 18th green at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio (USA).

AKRON, Ohio (USA)– Hunter Mahan wanted a repeat visit to this year’s Ryder Cup, but he wasn’t going to settle for a spot through the back door. Mahan won his first World Golf Championship title Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational – and as a bonus ensured a spot on Corey Pavin’s U.S. team.

“That was my goal at the beginning of the year, to make the team on my own,’’ Mahan said. The three-time PGA Tour winner was a captain’s pick in 2008 when the U.S. won at Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky.

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Tiger Woods, who has won seven times at Firestone, shot 77 on Sunday and finished with his highest score ever, 18-over 298, to tie for 78th.

Mahan already has a beat on Whistling Straits. He visited this week's PGA Championship venue last Monday, and will be bidding to become the only player on Tour to win three times this year. He won the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February.

Four shots behind to start the final round at Firestone Country Club’s South Course, Mahan ran off five birdies on the front nine to take the lead. With three clutch par saves down the stretch, he finished off a 6-under 64 and a two-shot victory over Ryan Palmer.

Mahan shot 30 on the front nine to surge past compatriot Sean O’Hair, then scrambled his way to victory. Mahan saved par with a 15-foot putt on the 15th, made a tough par from the front of the 16th green after hitting his second shot into a flower bed, then saved his biggest fist pump for an 8-foot par putt on the 17th hole.

Mahan finished at 12-under 268, and likely will move to a career-best No. 12 in the world.

“This weekend, I definitely just kind of let everything go and just had some fun,” Mahan said. “There’s a lot to think about right now with the FedEx and Ryder Cup going on this week, but I’m pretty proud of how I played. I handled all the stuff that was going on inside my head on the outside.”

O’Hair, who shared the 54-hole lead with Palmer, made two birdies on the opening four holes to take an early lead, then didn’t make a bogey the rest of the round. Palmer went out in 36, started the back nine with back-to-back birdies and never made another.

Palmer had his chances. He hit a 402-yard drive on the par-5 16th, which had the tees moved up to make the hole play “only’’ 602 yards, but his second shot went through the green.

He chipped to 12 feet and missed his birdie putt, then missed another birdie from about 20 feet on the 17th to end his chances. He closed with a 69.

“I can’t be disappointed,’’ Palmer said. “I played good today being under the gun. You’ve got to hand it to Hunter Mahan. He went out and did what I expected somebody to do, and shot a low round. I didn’t lose the golf tournament.’’

South African Retief Goosen, the 36-hole leader until a triple bogey on the opening hole Saturday, closed with a 65 and tied for third with American Bo Van Pelt, who shot a 67. O’Hair shot 71 and wound up alone in fifth.

Ernie Els of South Africa started the day two shots off the lead but couldn’t keep the momentum after a birdie on the first. Els, who leads the FedExCup race, plummeted down the leaderboard after a triple bogey at the ninth and shot 76.

Tiger Woods, who has won seven times at Firestone, shot 77 on Sunday and finished with his highest score ever, 18-over 298, to tie for 78th.

That opened the way for Phil Mickelson to take over the No. 1 ranking by finishing fourth at Firestone. Instead, Mickelson shot a 78 and faded to a tie for 46th.

Mahan was asked if he ever thought he would beat Woods by 30 shots. “I would say no,” he said with a laugh. “I never, ever thought that would be possible. It never crossed my mind. It’s definitely different.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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