AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- Hunter Mahan took a big step toward joining the elite in golf on Sunday, winning his first World Golf Championship title to lock up a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Four shots behind to start the final round at Firestone, Mahan ran off five birdies on the front nine to take the lead, then had three clutch par saves down the stretch to finish off a 6-under 64 and a two-shot victory over Ryan Palmer.
It was the second victory this year for Mahan, and the $1.4 million he earned moved him to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings with only the PGA Championship remaining before the top eight Americans qualifying.
The battle for No. 1 was far less inspiring.
Tiger Woods will remain atop the world ranking for the 270th consecutive week, despite the worst tournament of his career. Woods closed with a 77 to finish at 18-over 298 -- his highest score on the PGA Tour as a pro or an amateur -- and finished one spot out of last place.
That cleared the way for Phil Mickelson to replace him at No. 1, provided Lefty finished in fourth place alone.
Mickelson was even worse. He shot 41 on the front nine, including a three-putt from 4 feet, and shot 78 to tie for 46th.
"It didn't feel like it was far off," Mickelson said. "But it turned out to be."
Mahan was right on the money.
He shot 30 on the front nine to surge past 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, who shot 65 in the final round to win the Phoenix Open in February, finished at 12-under 268. He became the third American with multiple victories on the PGA Tour this year, and likely will move to a career-best No. 12 in the world.
The Ryder Cup was a big bonus.
"That was my goal at the beginning of the year, to make the team on my own," Mahan said.
Mahan has played on the past three U.S. teams -- two Presidents Cups and one Ryder Cup -- as a captain's pick. He was determined to make the team on his own this year, but had only one top 10 since Phoenix and during one stretch missed four straight cuts.
This week didn't look promising when he opened with a 71, but Mahan shot 67 on Friday and got back into the hunt with a 66 in the third round. He became the first player to win Firestone with an opening round over par since Greg Norman in 1995.
"Not making any bogeys on a Sunday is a good feeling," Mahan said.
He left that to everyone else around him.
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.
The Texan 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."
Retief Goosen, the 36-hole leader until a triple bogey on the opening hole Saturday, closed with a 65 and tied for third with Bo Van Pelt, who shot a 67. O'Hair shot 71 and wound up alone in fifth.
Mahan became only the fifth player to win a World Golf Championship at Firestone, a short list with Woods winning seven times. Typical of this event, however, there was drama on the 16th.
With a two-shot lead, Mahan went for the green in two and sailed his fairway metal over the green, over the bleachers and into a flower bed. Because the flower bed is part of the cart path, he was given relief in the walkway to the 17th tee. Mahan played it safe, going through the green, then putted from the fairway to about 3 feet for his par.
Woods finished his round some three hours before the leaders teed off. He headed for Whistling Straits to get ready for the PGA Championship, unsure what kind of game he could bring. Woods had never shot over par at Firestone since 2006, and he did it all four days to finish a career-high 30 shots out of the lead.
"Shooting 18-over par is not fun," Woods said. "I don't see how it can be fun shooting 18 over."
-- Golf Digest Digital Staff