No one has played the AT&T National at Congressional better and not won the championship than Hunter Mahan. With his 6-under-par round of 65 on Friday, which gave him a two-shot lead, Mahan has shot 70 or better in 12 of his 14 rounds on the illustrious Blue Course.
Maybe he’s due.
“I feel comfortable here,” Mahan said. “This golf course sets up well for me. I’m a good driver of the ball, good iron player, so I hit a lot of fairways and greens and avoid a lot of trouble out here. I get excited when I come here. It’s a course I like.”
Mahan (70-65 – 135) leads Robert Garrigus (70-67 – 137), Jimmy Walker (68-69 – 137), and former Virginia Tech star Brendon de Jonge (68-69 – 137). Another stroke back are Pat Perez (69-69 – 138), Rod Pampling (71-67 – 138), Seung-Yul Noh (70-68 – 138), Vijay Singh (68-70 – 138), and Stewart Cink (70-68 – 138). Tiger Woods (72-68 — 140) also is within striking distance.
On Friday, with most of those who teed off in the afternoon in retreat, Mahan made birdies on four of the last six holes of the front nine, and then played steady on the back before adding birdie putts of 10 feet on No. 16 and No. 18. He did it on a day when the thermometer registered 100 degrees, the hottest day this year on the PGA Tour.
“Near the end of the round it’s easy to kind of space out and lose focus a little bit,” Mahan said. “Going into 17, I really tried to bear down and stay focused on the right things.”
Mahan’s sizzling front was fueled by birdies made in a variety of ways. At Nos. 4 and No. 8, both par-4s, Mahan made birdie putts of 3 and 6 feet. On No. 6, a par-5, Mahan reached the green in two shots and two-putted from 22 feet. At No. 9, a par-5, Mahan hit his hybrid approach into a bunker but got up and down for another birdie.
“It wasn’t like it was a hard round. I hit so many fairways and greens, I made it easy on myself,” Mahan said. “This is a pretty punishing course if you get off line a little bit.”
But that has rarely been the case for Mahan at Congressional. In 14 AT&T National rounds here, Mahan has averaged 68.2 strokes. His 65 on Friday matched Cameron Tringale (74-65 – 139) for the low round of the tournament.
In 2009, Mahan shot a Sunday 62 to match the best round of the tournament in finishing second to Tiger Woods. In 2008, Mahan shot the best score of the second round (64) on his way to a T12. In 2007, he closed with a 65, which matched the best round of the tournament on his way to a T8.
“This is a great test. I feel like it’s not unfair,” Mahan said. “I think it gives you birdie opportunities. You just have to take advantage.”
Notes: Some name players who will not spend the weekend at Congressional – Lucas Glover (80-69 – 149), Jordan Spieth (75-75 – 150), Angel Cabrera (71-79 – 150), 2007 champion K.J. Choi (79-73 – 152), Chad Campbell (75-79 – 154), and Jeff Maggert (78-77 – 155), as well as FOT (friends of Tiger) Arjun Atwal (76-72 – 148) and Notah Begay (76-75 – 151).