Commentary

Hunter Mahan keeps hopes high

Updated: April 7, 2012, 11:09 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hunter Mahan thought after he beat Rory McIlroy in the WGC-Accenture Match Play final in February that people would stop talking about his infamous chip at the 2010 Ryder Cup. But not a day goes by for the 29-year-old Dallas resident that someone on Twitter or in the press doesn't remind him that he failed the U.S. team. As the fourth-ranked player in the world -- the top American on the list -- and the only two-time PGA Tour winner in 2012, the former Oklahoma State star has earned a measure of personal closure from Celtic Manor, but perhaps only a win on Sunday at the Masters could silence that memory forever.

After a 4-under 68 in his third round, he is in a good position heading into the final round to earn his first major championship. His best finish in the Masters was a tie for eighth in 2010.

"The game is in good shape," Mahan said. "I just have to go out there and trust it."

Mahan might have come into the Masters fatigued after a stressful but successful victory last week at the Shell Houston Open, but he said that he was well rested.

"I feel good. I've done a good job of playing golf without wasting energy," he said. "I'm not out there beating myself up over a bad shot or a bad round or a bad stretch or anything. I'm taking it easy on myself.

[+] EnlargeHunter Mahan
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesHunter Mahan started Round 3 at the Masters at even par for the tournament. After a 4-under-par 68, he suddenly found himself in contention for his first major championship.

"I can put myself in position like this on Sunday where I have a lot of energy, and I feel great. It's been actually a pretty relaxing week. I've had a lot of fun with some friends. So, I feel great. I'm not at all fatigued. I'm very much excited and I feel at totally full strength."

On Saturday, conditions at Augusta National were firmer than they had been in days past and there was little wind. And the pin positions were less diabolic than they were on Friday.

Mahan had five birdies on Saturday, but for the third day in a row he bogeyed the par-4, 450-yard 7th hole. He did birdie three out of the four par-5s.

"Hunter shot even the first two rounds and didn't get a lot out of any of those rounds," said his caddie, John Wood. "He was playing well. It was just a matter of him getting a couple of balls up and down. His touch has been great around the greens. He's hitting the ball really well."

Mahan played with Padraig Harrington, who shot a 68 to also finish at 4-under par.

"Hunter was very comfortable in his pairing today with Harrington," Wood said. "It's always good to play alongside somebody who is also playing good."

Mahan is probably not the Sean Foley student everyone thought would be in this position. Tiger Woods was the favorite to win his fifth green jacket coming into this week. At 3-over par after a third-round 72, Tiger's chances of winning are very slim, but Mahan could be right there on Sunday afternoon.

Mahan believes he can win. He knows the plot twists that can occur on the back nine at Augusta with eagle chances at the two par-5s that could vault him up the leaderboard. He saw Mickelson shoot a 30 on the back nine Saturday. So he's not overly concerned about starting the final round 5 shots back of the leader, Peter Hanson.

"If you don't think you can win, you're never going to win," Mahan said. "You've got to think you can win. You've got to believe. You've got to work hard and you've got to find a way to believe and you've got to -- whatever that is.

"If you don't believe, then it's just not going to happen. It can only take you -- talent can only take you so far if you don't believe."

On Sunday, Mahan will have a shot with a win to further diminish the 2010 Ryder Cup as his main golf legacy. He's already moved on from it, and a green jacket might help the world do the same.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.