The only golfer to play in all 29 FedEx Cup playoff tournaments to date is the same one who is currently leading the points race, which means he has the inside track at the $10 million prize that comes with winning it.
By emerging from a large Sunday scrum and capturing the Barclays by two shots, Hunter Mahan guaranteed himself a spot in the next three playoff events — which will make him 32 for 32 — beginning with the Deutsche Bank Championship, starting Friday at TPC Boston.
Of the four playoff tournaments, the DBC is the one in which Mahan has had the least success (a tie for eighth in 2011 is his best showing). But since the playoff format made its debut in 2007, he has been the one always playing.
Mahan has been among the top 125 players on the points list every year to qualify for the Barclays; he has been among the top 100 after the Barclays every year to advance to the DBC; then he’s been inside the top 70 for the BMW Championship; and finally, Mahan has been ranked somewhere in the top 30 after the first three FedEx Cup events, which puts him in the season-ending Tour Championship.
Now that Steve Stricker finally missed a playoff start (though eligible for the Barclays, Stricker sat out with an injury), only Mahan can say he has played them all. Sunday, though, was the first time he has won a FedEx Cup tournament.
“That’s a lot of golf,” said Mahan, whose worst finish on the FedEx Cup points list was 27th, in 2009, and whose best was seventh, two years later. “That’s over a lot of years.
“I think that’s basically saying that I haven’t really had a bad year in that span, and that feels really good.
“There’s been a lot of great players who haven’t done that. I’m extremely proud of that fact.”
Mahan is a proud man, proud of the opportunities he’s had to represent the United States in team competition (four President Cup teams, two Ryder Cup squads), and proud of the work he has been able to do with his longtime swing coach, Sean Foley.
He rushed to Foley’s defense at the Barclays, when asked about the mounting criticism directed at Foley over the work he’s done with Tiger Woods, who hasn’t won a major since teaming up with Foley four years ago. On Monday, Woods announced that he was ending his partnership with Foley and would start looking for a new swing coach.
“Most of the people haven’t made any sort of effort to get to know Sean and understand what he’s trying to do,” said Mahan, who has five of his six PGA Tour wins with Foley as his swing coach. “He just does his job every day and does it better than anyone.”
Mahan began working with Foley in 2007, the year he made the Presidents Cup team for the first time. Five more team selections have followed, but in half of his six appearances, Mahan did not make the team automatically on points; he was a captain’s selection, twice for the Presidents Cup (2007, 2009) and also in the 2008 Ryder Cup.
Once again this year, Mahan failed to make a team on points; he was 25th at the cutoff, which came after the PGA Championship. If Mahan wants to join his American peers at Gleneagles in Scotland next month, he’ll need to convince Tom Watson to make him a captain’s pick. Winning the Barclays can’t hurt.
“It’s really an honor to be part of the team, and I think with this win, I’ve got a chance,” said Mahan, who tied for 15th at the Bridgestone Invitational and tied for seventh at the PGA before his victory at Ridgewood.
“I can’t try too hard, I can’t try to force anything. I’ve just got to play golf and know that I’m playing great and know that I’m here because I deserve to be here. I can’t add too much to it because there’s enough emotion going to be out there for all of us.”
Another factor working in Mahan’s favor: All three times he was a captain’s selection, he won two matches.
Mahan — and everyone else jockeying for those three captain’s picks — has one more opportunity to impress Watson, who will announce his selections Sept. 2, the day after the DBC. Mahan’s recent play, and his Ryder Cup experience, certainly put him in the discussion.
“I don’t know who he’s thinking about or what his process is, but I needed a strong couple weeks, a strong major, and a strong couple playoff events, to have a chance,” Mahan said. “Obviously a win, it helps a lot. Playing well at the PGA helped a lot.”
If Mahan can add one more strong showing, at this week’s DBC, he might be too tempting for Watson to pass up. And a season that hadn’t amounted to much over the first 7½ months (only three stroke-play top-10s) could end up being the most successful and satisfying of his career.