So much went on during—and after—the PGA Tour's opening event of the 2017-'18 season that it was easy to miss what Hunter Mahan did. John Daly made the cut, Brendan Steele defended his Safeway Open title and Phil Mickelson did Phil Mickelson things before wildfires caused an evacuation of Silverado Resort & Spa. But Mahan also took an important step in his quest to become a force on tour again.
With a final-round 70, Mahan quietly moved up 22 spots on the leader board to finish T-13. That might not seem like much, but incredibly, it's Mahan's best result since a T-4 at the 2015 Deutsche Bank Championship.
In the past two PGA Tour seasons, Mahan, 35, has just three top-25 finishes, while making just 19 of 48 cuts. During that time, Mahan's driving and putting has remained solid, but his iron play has been atrocious, ranking 179th and 187th in strokes gained/approach-the-green. Mahan ranked 14th in that stat at the Safeway Open.
Once a regular on the U.S. Ryder and Presidents Cup teams and a six-time PGA Tour winner, Mahan struggled to the point of leaving longtime swing coach Sean Foley for Chris O'Connell last fall having to enter the recent Web.com Tour Finals to try to earn his PGA Tour card. Unable to do that (Mahan missed out on the top 25 by finishing 43rd), he'll use his partial status and sponsor exemptions to piece together a schedule. Needless to say, a T-13 in the season's first event was a great start.
“I’m excited to play again," Mahan, who also finished T-16 at his final event of last season, recently told Golf World's Tim Rosaforte. “I feel like it feels somewhat manageable, where I felt like there were times when it wasn’t manageable. I felt like I was blind throwing darts at a dartboard and hoping for good results instead of swinging with confidence.”