Hunter Mahan continues to impress

2/28/2012 - Golf Hunter Mahan Tiger Woods + more

Hunter Mahan now owns a second WGC title and joins a select group of golfers with two victories in some of the year's biggest events. So, where does that win put him in relation to other young American golfers?

That's not the only issue we're discussing this week as Tiger Woods gets set to play the second of three consecutive events at the Honda Classic starting Thursday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. What do our experts think will happen with Woods?

Our panel shares its insights about those topics and more in Monday Four-Ball.

1. After his second career WGC victory Sunday, where does Hunter Mahan fall on the list of top young American golfers?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Calling Mahan a "young" American is kinda like calling Demi Moore a "young" cougar. Hunter turns 30 in May, and the only other American guy close to his age who might have a claim to the title is Nick Watney, who turns 31 this April.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: If Dustin Johnson would confront the weaknesses in his short game in the direct manner that Mahan has managed to do the past couple of years, I might put him well ahead of the pack. But after Mahan's performance at the Match Play, I have to put him right up there with Johnson.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: For several years, he's been in the conversation along with Dustin Johnson, Watney, Bubba Watson and the late additions such as Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler. The problem has been a lack of victories. Mahan got a breakthrough win at the WGC-Bridgestone in 2010, then didn't win again until Sunday. This elevates him for now, but will he build on it? It was an impressive week for Mahan that ought to propel him.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: I'd put Mahan just a hair behind Dustin Johnson, but admittedly that's more on potential than anything else. Mahan's four career wins, compared with Johnson's five, came against superior fields in WGC events. Granted, DJ has two FedEx Cup playoff victories, but he has a 54-hole rain-shortened Pebble Beach win in there, too.

2. With Rory McIlroy coming up just short of the top spot at the WGC-Match Play, who will be No. 1 in the world rankings after the Honda Classic?

Collins: At 22 years old, fatigue isn't gonna be the issue for McIlroy -- grass, elevation and humidity will be. At the end of the week Luke Donald will still be No. 1.

Evans: I would be surprised to see McIlroy and Lee Westwood play well at Honda after their long weeks at the Match Play. So Donald will hold on to No. 1 for at least another week.

Harig: With Donald not playing Honda, the opportunity again will present itself for either McIlroy or Westwood to move into the No. 1 position, depending on several factors. If a win is necessary, that is a lot to ask of either player after a long week at the Match Play. The educated guess here is that Donald will remain No. 1.

Maguire: At the conclusion of the Honda Classic, I expect 22-year-old McIlroy to take his place as the 16th golfer to own the world No. 1 ranking. Current No. 1 Donald isn't playing this week, and, given McIlroy's recent form, he's in prime position to move to the top spot for the first time in his young career.

3. What do you expect from Tiger Woods this week at the Honda Classic?

Collins: Same thing we've seen for the past year. Three good rounds and one round that keeps him from winning the tournament. This week at Honda, it'll be because of the winds that come up on the weekend that'll give Tiger that one bad round.

Evans: Tiger can't putt. He'll contend, but he won't make the putts down the stretch to win.

Harig: Certainly better putting. Woods was dreadful over the final 18 holes at Pebble Beach and struggled mightily last week at the Match Play Championship, where he admitted difficulty reading the greens, as well as problems with his stroke. That should not be as much of an issue in Florida, although he has not played the PGA National Course in competition since he was a junior. The course will offer other challenges, including the potential for wind. If nothing else, this ought to be a good test for Woods' game at this point.

Maguire: That first victory is still probably a couple of months off, but Tiger's putting -- the most troublesome part of his game recently -- should feel more at home because he's playing … well, close to home. If nothing else, Woods will be able to sleep in his own bed this week, and that alone should give him a comfort level despite his never having played at PGA National in a PGA Tour event as a pro.

4. Golf fans get to witness the Bear Trap at this week's Honda Classic. Is it as hard as advertised, or is it overhyped?

Collins: Two par-3s under 200 yards that give pros stomach ulcers because there's no bailout area on either hole. A par-4 in between that the big boys can't hit driver but still have to hit 6-iron in for a second shot when the winds blows. There's no hype. It's all "Bear."

Evans: Those three holes -- Nos. 15, 16, and 17 -- constitute one of the toughest stretches on tour. The players take them very seriously. With all that water surrounding them, can you blame them?

Harig: It is overhyped, but that doesn't mean it isn't difficult. Two of the three holes that make up the Bear Trap are par-3s that are a bit too similar, but the abundance of water and sand makes these holes quite formidable. A player needs to be striking the ball well, and more than a few have faltered here. It certainly is the cause of plenty of angst in the final round.

Maguire: It's a little bit of both. The Bear Trap certainly will doom the hopes of several golfers this week, including some down the stretch come Sunday afternoon, but there is a bit of the PR machine in action when discussing that stretch of holes at PGA National.