By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Phil Mickelson was the last player to win the week before the Masters then go on to capture the Green Jacket. Now Mahan’s trying to join him, and Mickelson is one of the players he’ll be chasing on Sunday is Mickelson.
Coming off a victory at the Shell Houston Open, Mahan shot 68 Saturday to move to 4 under and into a tie for fifth five shots off the lead at Augusta National, where Mahan is seeking his first career major championship.
”I've done a good job of playing golf without wasting energy,” Mahan said, explaining his two victories this season. “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.”
It helps when you play the way Mahan has.
A year ago, he had a career-best 10 top-10 finishes. This season, he’s already won twice.
A third won’t be easy.
When Mahan sat down in the interview room, he glanced at the leaderboard and noticed that Mickelson eagled the par-5 13th to tie for the lead. By the end of the day the three-time Masters champion had added two more birdies to move into second place, one behind Peter Hanson and four ahead of Mahan.
“I think that's the greatest example of Augusta in purest form right there,” Mahan said.
Mahan has been pretty pure himself. He’s sixth on the PGA TOUR in driving accuracy, ninth in greens in regulation, 13th in scoring and first in the FedExCup standings.
He also said that if you don’t believe you can win, then you won’t. But he’s not defining himself by wins and losses, which wasn’t always the case.
There was a time not all that long ago that Mahan used to get down on himself when he didn’t win. Now he’s more mature, open to change and doing what he needs to do to put himself in contention on a more regular basis.
”I'm trying to not be afraid of change and trying to find a way to get better,” Mahan said. “If you're not getting better in this game, you're getting worse. That's all I've thought about. That's led me to doing a lot of different things and trying to make golf not as important as it used to be.”
Mahan easily could have let it, especially after flubbing a chip shot in the Ryder Cup two years ago in the final match. The U.S. lost the Cup and many pointed to that shot even though it was only a small part of the story.
”I could have gotten in a shell and been upset about it and dwelled on it,” Mahan said. “It was a great experience, man. I was in the last group at the Ryder Cup. I took a lot of good from that. That might have helped me because then I started saying, you know what, I'm not going to let someone else determine my success. I'll determine my own success after a round, after a tournament, and then I can move on from that.”
Sunday, he’ll have another opportunity to move one step farther away from it.