Hunter Mahan denies Rory McIlroy No. 1

February, 26, 2012
02/26/12
5:52
PM ET
Sunday afternoon's championship match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play began with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy poised to take over as the No. 1 player in the world. Hunter Mahan decided he wanted to write a different script.

The 29-year-old American at one point won four out of five holes to give him a commanding 4-up lead through 10 holes. Despite a late charge by McIlroy on the back nine that cut Mahan's lead to two at one point, Mahan won his second WGC title with a 2-and-1 victory in the Arizona desert.

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Hunter Mahan
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesHunter Mahan carded seven birdies during Sunday's WGC-Accenture Match Play final round.

Crucial Moment: At two down on No. 15, McIlroy blasted his tee shot on the drivable par-4, setting up an eagle putt. Mahan came up next and, with a favorable bounce, saw his drive stop just short of the green. The pair halved with birdies leaving Mahan a 2-up lead with three holes to play. Had Mahan lost the hole, McIlroy would have been 1 down with three to play and the outcome might have played out much differently.

Squandered Opportunities: The scorecard will read that Mahan and McIlroy halved the first two holes of their championship match, but the reality is, McIlroy lost both. After Mahan left his chip from over the green woefully short on the opening hole, McIlroy lipped out his short par putt that would have given him the early lead and, more importantly, the momentum.

Then on the par-5 second hole, McIlroy had the advantage, but Mahan halved the hole with a 12-foot birdie putt to keep the match even. The match was all square, but it felt like McIlroy stood 2 down on the third tee.

No Afternoon Comeback: McIlroy got 3 down through four holes against Lee Westwood in the Sunday morning semifinal and mounted a furious rally when he actually took the lead to the back nine. That wasn't the case in the final against Mahan. Mahan had an answer for nearly every clutch McIlroy shot. How dominating was Mahan? It took an eagle on the par-5 11th for McIlroy to win his first hole of the match.

Still In Sight? Rory McIlroy might not have supplanted Luke Donald as the No. 1 player in the world this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, but he'll have another opportunity starting Thursday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The 22-year-old is slated to tee it up at the Honda Classic in a strong field that also includes Westwood and Tiger Woods, which means significant world ranking points will be available. Granted, there won't be as many points up for grabs as was in the Arizona desert, but likely enough that a win, or possibly even a high finish, could make him No. 1 for the first time in his career.

First Blood: Mahan and McIlroy played the first five holes all square and it wasn't until the par-3 sixth that Mahan won the first hole of the match. He stuffed his approach to 2 feet and after McIlroy's chip from off the green failed to find the bottom of the cup, Mahan took a 1-up lead after his conceded birdie beat McIlroy's par.

Of Some Consolation: Don't feel bad for Mark Wilson and Westwood. Wilson won their third-place match and cashed $600,000 while Westwood took home $490,000. Granted, Mahan won $1.4 million and McIlroy $850,000, so none, shall we say, are hurting for cash.

Ryder Cup Kickoff? With 2012 being a Ryder Cup year, there's a natural U.S. vs. Europe mentality that might have started to take hold Sunday in the Arizona desert. The biennial match-play competition isn't until September, but Mahan showed he can win head-to-head battles against the best in the world.

Mahan might be most remembered for faltering in the deciding match in the 2010 Ryder Cup where his tearful post-round news conference showed to the world just how important those matches are to the players. He might get a chance at redemption at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago later this year.

Road To The Final: Mahan needed 19 holes to defeat his Round 1 opponent, Zach Johnson. He then defeated Y.E. Yang 4 and 3, Steve Stricker 4 and 3, Matt Kuchar 6 and 5 and Mark Wilson 2 and 1. The average world ranking of his opponents prior to the final was 32.4.

As for McIlroy, he defeated the last man into the field, George Coetzee, 2 up in the first round, then went on to beat Anders Hansen 3 and 2, Miguel Angel Jimenez 3 and 1, Sang-moon Bae 3 and 2 and finally Westwood 3 and 1. The average world ranking of his opponents prior to the final was 40.2.

Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com

Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com.
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