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Mahan takes big step up

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    Hunter Mahan waved to the gallery after parring out on the 18th hole to finish off his victory in the Bridgestone Invitational.
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AKRON, Ohio » Hunter Mahan is doing things he never imagined possible, on and off the golf course.

He thought it was "crazy talk" when friends told him he would know immediately when he fell in love, until he met former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Kandi Harris in December and proposed to her in June.

How about beating Tiger Woods by 30 shots at Firestone?

"I never, ever thought that would be possible," Mahan said yesterday, stifling a laugh at the absurdity of it all. "It never crossed my mind. It’s definitely different."

Some 6 hours after Woods finished off the worst tournament of his career, Mahan looked better than ever in the Bridgestone Invitational. He ran off five birdies on the front nine to make up a four-shot deficit, delivered three clutch pars down the stretch to protect his lead and closed with a 6-under 64 for a two-shot victory over Ryan Palmer that brought plenty of perks.

Mahan earned $1.4 million to lock up a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, one of his primary goals this year.

He won his first World Golf Championship title and moved to No. 12 in the world ranking, a big step toward joining the elite in golf. And he won for the second time this year, becoming the fifth player this year with multiple victories on the PGA Tour.

"The last couple of weeks, the game has been good," said Mahan, who won the Phoenix Open in February by shooting 65 in the final round. "I knew it was there. I know I just had to keep going and keep trusting it. This weekend, I definitely just kind of let everything go and just had some fun."

It was anything but that for Woods.

He had won seven times in his last nine starts at Firestone. But in a week that showed just how lost he is amid a personal life in chaos, Woods shot 77 yesterday to finish at 18-over 298. He tied for 78th in the 80-man field, his worst finish ever.

Phil Mickelson looked just as bad yesterday. With his best chance ever to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world — Mickelson was tied for 10th and needed to finish alone in fourth — the Masters champion sprayed shots all over Firestone on his way to a 78.

It was the first time since the 1998 British Open that Woods and Mickelson both shot 77 or higher in the same round.

"It was a rough day, if you couldn’t tell," he said.

For Mahan, it was mostly smooth sailing.

His 64 was the lowest final round by a winner since the Bridgestone Invitational became a WGC event in 1999.

"This is one of the bigger tournaments we play all year," Mahan said. "And it’s definitely the best win of my career."

The birdies were brilliant. The pars won him the tournament.

"I knew if I didn’t make a bogey I’d be all right," said Mahan, who finished at 12-under 268.

The 28-year-old still managed to make it interesting, especially on the par-5 16th, which always seems to factor in this tournament. It’s where Woods has delivered so many pivotal shots over the years, where Padraig Harrington took an 8 in the final round last year.

Mahan was in the fairway, 227 yards away on a hole that had been shortened to 602 yards for the final round. He figured the only place he couldn’t miss was short — in the pond. To go long and right into the gallery would still leave him a simple shot to the green.

"I did not count on hitting it right and long, and into a flower bush," he said.

That’s where he went, over the bleachers, over everything, and into a flower bed. Because it was deemed to be part of the cement cart path complex, he was given a free drop in the walkway to the 17th tee. He played it safe, chipping through the green and into the fairway, then putted to 3 feet to save par.

Before that, he holed a 15-foot par on the 15th. On the next hole, he saved his most intense fist pump for an 8-foot par on the 17th.

Palmer, this year’s Sony Open in Hawaii champ, couldn’t catch him.

Two shots behind, he missed a 12-foot birdie on the 16th and a 20-footer on the 17th to end his hopes. Palmer 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."

 

LUNDE RALLIES TO WIN

Bill Lunde rallied with a 6-under 66 to finish at 17-under 271, holding off J.J. Henry by one stroke to win the Turning Stone Resort Championship in Verona, N.Y.

The win is the first for Lunde in his second full season on the PGA Tour. He vaulted into the lead with six birdies on the front nine and played even par for the last nine holes.

Lunde earned a spot in next week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits with the victory. He also won $720,000 and picked up 250 FedEx Cup points.

Castle alumnus Dean Wilson closed with a 69 for a 279 total, good enough for a tie for 41st. He took home $14,000.

 

FROST BREAKS THROUGH

David Frost jumped out fast with a brilliant front nine and finished with an 11-under 61 to earn a record-setting victory at the 3M Championship in Blaine, Minn.

It was the first career Champions Tour win for Frost, whose 25-under 191 was two shots better than the previous tournament scoring record set by R.W. Eaks in 2008. His final-round score beat by one the tournament’s previous lowest round set by Dana Quigley in 2008.

Frost also tied the tour record of 25-under for a 54-hole tournament previously set by Loren Roberts at the 2006 MasterCard Championship at Hualalai and equaled by Bernhard Langer at the 2007 Administaff Small Business Classic.

Battling clammy hands in the heat and humidity, Mark Calcavecchia, tied with Frost for the lead after 36 holes, shot a 4-under 68, and finished second, five shots behind.

 

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