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Hunter Mahan and the power of positive thinking

By Alex Myers

PARAMUS, N.J. -- As he waited to tee off Sunday, Hunter Mahan engaged playing partner Morgan Hoffmann in a conversation about Ridgewood Country Club, which is about a 10-minute drive from Hoffmann's boyhood home. Mahan raved about the varied collection of holes. He mentioned how much he liked the course's "flow." He noted the challenge of the layout.

"You got to play here in high school?" Mahan asked. "That will make you a good player."

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At 32, Mahan has proved he's a good player many times over. And for a long time, he's teetered on being truly great with a pair of World Golf Championships and by playing in the final group at back-to-back majors in 2013.

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But Sunday, Mahan stood on that first tee in need of a win -- and apparently, he was in the perfect place. The man who set the Ridgewood course record of 62 in his first competitive round there six years ago, shot a final-round 65 to win the Barclays and pick up his first PGA Tour title in more than two years.

"I felt like my game was in good order, and on this golf course ... it suits my game," said Mahan, who defeated the trio of Jason Day, Stuart Appleby and Cameron Tringale by two shots. "I felt like that this week, just the history I've had here, I really was excited to play.

"It may feel like forever, but you've just got to keep working and that's what I kept doing this year," said Mahan, who works with Sean Foley and recently adopted a mantra of never wanting to waste a shot.

Mahan's Sunday efficiency moved atop the FedEx Cup points list with three playoff events remaining. In 2011, he nearly won the Tour Championship and the $10 million bonus, but lost in a playoff to Bill Haas.

"Obviously, this means a lot and this is kind of the biggest win in the sense of what comes with it, having a chance to win the FedEx Cup," Mahan said. "A lot has changed from Saturday to Sunday. That's for sure."

What also comes with the win? In all likelihood, a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Mahan failed to qualify by points, but now has to be considered a favorite to be one of captain Tom Watson's three picks after this victory and a T-7 at the PGA Championship.

"I've been thinking about it for a few weeks. Just the unfortunate things that have happened to the guys on the team, seems like it's let a lot of guys in," said Mahan, who played on the U.S. team in 2008 and 2010 (his chunked chip helped Europe win that year) but failed to earn a captain's pick in 2012. "I have no idea what he's thinking or if he has any sort of strategy, but I think a win is a good step in the right direction."

Just having a chance to win had to feel good for Mahan, who really hadn't contended since pulling out as the 36-hole leader at the Canadian Open last year to be with his wife for the birth of the couple's first child. On Sunday, Kandi surprised Hunter by flying in with their daughter, Zoe. Kandi said the plane landed while Hunter was on the 14th hole, but thanks to no traffic, the two were there to celebrate on the 18th green.

"I was almost in shock," Mahan said. "All of a sudden, there's my wife and daughter, and I'm like, wait a minute, should they be on the green or not, what do we do? There was a lot going on in my head . . . obviously, to see them right now and to win is a special feeling."

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Part of Mahan's confusion stemmed from a dizzying 18th hole. Following a third straight birdie and a fifth on the back nine, Mahan seemed to have the tournament wrapped up with a three-shot lead, but he hit a wayward drive right. After a lengthy discussion with his caddie, he pitched out, but missed the green and had to get up and down for a bogey.

"It was more exciting than it needed to be," said Mahan, who is the only person to play in every FedEx Cup Playoff event since it started in 2007.

Apparently, so was the handling of the Barclays crystal trophy. PGA Tour VP of communications Laura Neal drew laughs at Mahan's post-round press conference by alluding to Mahan "breaking the trophy." When asked about it, Mahan flashed a big smile and said, "The trophy? I don't know. I don't know what you're talking about."

That's right, Hunter. Stay positive. There should be more trophies where that came from.

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