BETHESDA, Md. – Not that he needed it much on Day 2 at Congressional, but Hunter Mahan – long considered one of the game’s best ball-strikers but never among the top in short-game play – is encouraged by improvements he’s made around the greens since he began working with emerging short-game guru Mark Roe.
Mahan talked with Roe at the urging of his swing coach Sean Foley earlier this season at Augusta National and the two made it official at the U.S. Open.
“The good thing about Roe is he can show you what to do because he has a great short game and can whip you in a competition,” said Mahan, who scorched Congressional on Friday with a 6-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Brendon De Jonge, Jimmy Walker and Robert Garrigus. “It’s always nice when someone is showing you and you can visualize it.”
For the most part Mahan didn’t need Roe’s teachings on Friday. He hit 12 of 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens and had just three birdies putts longer than 7 feet. But there was a moment on the 17th hole that gives Mahan confidence with his improving short game.
Cruising at 6 under for the day, Mahan’s approach to the par-4 17th hole from 163 yards dropped short of the green and into the grass face of a bunker from where he delicately chipped to 3 feet for par.
“Really proud of the up and down on 17,” said Mahan, who is already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season. “That was the only loose iron I hit all day so that was nice to get that up and down.”
Considering a scoring average that was more than two strokes over par (73.27), Mahan’s 65 may have been as good as his closing 62 at the 2009 AT&T National at Congressional. Three years ago Mahan began the final round six strokes out of the lead, closed with a back-nine 30 and finished a stroke behind tournament host Tiger Woods.
“I was excited when I shot 62,” said Mahan, who has never finished outside the top 30 in four starts at the AT&T National. “I thought that was a heck of a round. I really tried to stay ready for if there was a playoff, but I wasn't disappointed at all that I lost by one. “
If he continues to play, and chip, like he did on Friday, he won’t have to worry about a playoff.