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Mahan slowly climbing out of slump

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SAN DIEGO – Mired in a miserable slump, Hunter Mahan preaches the “process.” He said it nine times during a seven-minute interview Friday at Torrey Pines.

Some processes take longer than others, which is why Mahan, who once climbed as high as No. 4 in the world, has missed 12 of his last 13 cuts and plummeted all the way to No. 451.

It’s a stunning decline for a player who ascended from top junior to elite college player to standout Tour performer with ease.

“Since I was 12 years old, my career, the way I’ve played has always gone up,” he said. “I’ve had very little decline in my game. This is different. This is a new situation I feel myself in. I have to get back to a process every shot and how I’m going to do things.”

That process included a few shakeups. Off the course, Mahan and wife Kandi have three children under the age of 4. On the course, Mahan parted ways with longtime caddie John Wood. And he changed swing coaches, transitioning last fall from Sean Foley to Chris O’Connell, who also teaches Matt Kuchar. Mahan credited O’Connell with giving him a “system and program” for how to approach each day, each tournament, each year.

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The returns have been slow. Entering this week’s Farmers Insurance Open, Mahan had missed seven consecutive cuts. Only a tie for 70th at the Travelers snapped a prior run of five missed cuts in a row. He didn’t finish better than 43rd all year.

A winner most recently at the 2014 Barclays, Mahan’s 2015 season ended a streak of at least $2.9 million in earnings. (He has banked nearly $30 million in his career.) This year, he isn’t eligible for any of the four majors.

Mahan says he can light it up in practice at home, going weeks without shooting over par. But his iron play – what used to be a strength – has let him down in recent years. He has ranked outside the top 140 in strokes gained-approach to the green each of the past three years.

“You can hit balls all you want,” he said, “but unless you’re in competition, it’s a completely different animal.”

Mahan finally saw glimmers of hope last week, breaking par all three rounds in the CareerBuilder Challenge. This week at Torrey Pines, he has shot rounds of 71-70, sitting just five shots off the lead, his best position in more than a year.

“I’m kind of learning what pressure feels like and playing a good round and wanting to finish it off right,” he said. “It was good to put all that practice into use.”