Sunday at The Barclays was a great day for Hunter Mahan. It might have been an even better day for Tom Watson.
Mahan won the sixth title of his career at The Barclays, shooting a 65 in his final round to launch him into first place in the FedEx Cup playoffs. It was his first win in two years, and it took him from his lowly spot at 25th in Team USA's Ryder Cup standings to a strong contender for one of Watson's three captain's picks.
Meanwhile, nine Americans finished among the top 12 at Ridgewood, including team stalwarts Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar. The European with the best finish was Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, a Spaniard who is currently 15th in the Ryder Cup standings.
Suddenly, Watson's Ryder Cup team, which seemed to be limping to Scotland next month, looks like a force with which to be reckoned. The Stars and Stripes might be able to give Rory McIlroy and Co. a run for their money after all.
Hunter Mahan is on fire. Somewhere in Kansas, Tom Watson is jumping up and down on his couch. (Or quietly enjoying this in his recliner.)— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) August 24, 2014
Mahan was a Ryder Cup afterthought a few weeks ago, but the two-time team member has been picking up steam lately. After 13 straight tournaments without a top-20 finish, Mahan has now finished tied for 15th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, tied for seventh at the PGA Championship and alone in first at The Barclays.
With a six-under-par final round that put him at 14 under for the championship, Mahan made an impact by hitting the fairways and nailing all of the putts in his wake. After a year of struggles, he was just glad to be playing good golf again.
"Like I said, it will be a bonus to make it to Atlanta and it will be a bonus right now to make The Ryder Cup Team," he told the press after his first round (via ASAP Sports). "So I have nothing to be nervous about or get out there and doubt myself."
While Mahan downplayed his desires to take the trip to Scotland, there's no doubt that being picked for the team would make his year.
As Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com recounted, even though Mahan is only 32, he's already experienced the full gamut of Ryder Cup emotions: "Back in 2008, he was part of the last winning U.S. team, posting an undefeated record. In 2010, his duffed chip in the decisive singles match against Graeme McDowell led to tears in the aftermath. And two years ago, he was on the short list of potential captain’s picks, only to be left off the roster."
After the devastation of 2010, it really stung for Mahan to be left off the 2012 team. He was ninth on the eight-man roster, but his unimpressive late-season play kept him from making the team, despite the fact that he had two wins that season.
"I felt like I wanted to redeem myself somewhat [from 2010] because you feel somewhat responsible," he said at the time, as ESPN.com's Bob Harig reported.
He hadn't been the same since 2012, and the chances for redemption of any kind have been few and far between. His best chance to win came at the 2013 RBC Canadian Open, where he held the lead after 36 holes. However, he withdrew from the event when he found out that his wife, Kandi, was going into labor.
On Sunday, after he birdied five of the final eight holes to overcome a crowded leaderboard by two strokes, Kandi and their daughter, Zoe, were there waiting for him. They had flown in that afternoon to surprise him on the 18th green.
Mahan has always been one of the most consistent guys on tour. In fact, he's the only player to play in all 29 FedEx Cup playoff events since its inception. He's also well liked, especially by his fellow Americans. He's a member of the PGA Tour boy band "Golf Boys" with Fowler, Ben Crane and Bubba Watson.
While he made his case for the Ryder Cup team with his play at Ridgewood Country Club, he also made his case to the press (via ASAP Sports):
I've always been right on the cusp there and got a pretty good record, pretty good singles, teams and stuff. I think I'm pretty easy to get along with and get along with a lot of different guys and stuff like that. We all love to play in them but I think some guys maybe get into more or relish it more than others. It's so much fun to be a part of that week and that event.
Watson has three captain's picks, and he will announce his decision next Monday after the second FedEx Cup playoff event. He wanted players to earn their spots on the team with their play, and it's hard to ask for more than a two-stroke victory at The Barclays.
The European Ryder Cup team is full of dangerous players, from McIlroy to McDowell. If Team USA is going to win the Cup for the first time since 2008, everyone is going to need to play their best golf.
At The Barclays, Mahan did just that. Now, he just has to wait to see whether it was enough.