Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Matt York/AP/Press Association Images Hunter Mahan reacts upon winning the final round of the World Match Play Championship. The win was Mahan's second WGC title.
# Opinion
In the swing: Mahan needed to prove that he can handle the pressure
Unfortunately for Rory, Hunter Mahan chose last weekend’s World Match Play Championship to prove that he’s no bottler, writes Neil Cullen.

IT WAS A near miss for Rory McIlroy at the WGC Accenture Match Play, but in fairness to Hunter Mahan, he played great golf all week and deserved his win.

Lots of people probably remember Hunter Mahan’s game against Graeme McDowell in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor – it was the deciding game. Some say G-Mac won that match with his incredible putt on the 16th, others say Mahan lost it with his fluffed chip on the 17th.

It was probably a combination of both, but the way it played out meant some questions lingered over Hunter Mahan’s ability to perform when the pressure comes on. His overall play has always been of the highest quality, but as he admitted himself after his win on Sunday, his game is built on his ball striking.

He also lost in a playoff last year at the Tour Championship to Bill Haas. Haas did admittedly produce the shot of the year out of a water hazard, but it added fuel to those who doubted Mahan’s ability as a closer.

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That his game held up when McIlroy turned up the heat on the back-nine will give him great confidence. In picking up his second WGC event, he becomes one of only six players to have won more than one. Certainly the signs are there that he could be a future Major winner. It wouldn’t be a surprise, nor would it be undeserved.

Rory McIlroy will be disappointed not to have won the tournament and to have missed out on becoming world number one, but there are certainly positives to take. There were many times, maybe too many times, over the course of his six matches where he found the desert or was playing from a difficult position. He admitted himself that he didn’t have his best game with him, but the fact that he managed to make the final and win some tough matches along the way is encouraging.

There was much made of the effort and emotion Rory seemed to invest in his semi-final game against Lee Westwood and how difficult it must have been to face into the final after such a short turnaround. Sure, Westwood is a fierce competitor, but it’s not as if Mahan had a walkover against Mark Wilson. Wilson is a quality player and beat some really strong golfers to make the semis.

Tiger Woods didn’t have a great week by his standards. It looked on Thursday night like he might force his match with Nick Watney into extra holes, but a missed five-footer on the 18th green proved to be one of the biggest anti-climaxes of the week.

Woods will tee it up again this week at the Honda Classic and again the following week at Doral for the WGC Cadillac Championship. It’s rare to see him play this many weeks in a row, certainly we haven’t seen it in the last few year, so it will be interesting to see whether his game sharpens up with the regular competitive play. Certainly, if he can avoid having to play any shots left handed it’ll be an improvement on the tournament just gone.

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Much was made during the week by commentators of the fact that 18 holes is a short format for a match and favour the players who get off to a good start. Rory McIlroy certainly agrees: “I think 36-hole match play is a better format in general than the 18-hole match play.” But how many holes do you really need?

72-hole strokeplay is understandable, as it gives plenty of time for the best player of the course of four days to prove himself and to be crowned the winner. It’s much harder to have a good week than it is to have a good day. But matchplay has always been a straight shoot-out. It makes each match in its entirety more interesting, because every hole counts.

Ultimately, Hunter Mahan was the best player this week and a deserved winner. Matchplay can produce some incredible entertainment and we have to make the most of weeks such as this as they don’t come around too often.

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