Hunter Mahan prevented Rory McIlroy from becoming the top-ranked golfer by beating him in the final of the World Match Play Championship.
The 2-and-1 win for Mahan at the Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain course in Marana, Arizona, yesterday means American players have claimed victory in the opening eight events on the U.S. PGA Tour’s schedule for the first time since 2001.
“It feels good,” Mahan told reporters after securing his second World Golf Championships title. “I put everything I had into that match.”
Mahan’s fourth victory on the PGA Tour follows wins at the 2007 Travelers Championship and the Phoenix Open and WGC Bridgestone Invitational two years ago. Mahan earned $1.4 million, while McIlroy collected $850,000 for finishing second.
The loss for second-ranked McIlroy ensures Luke Donald will remain world No. 1 for at least another week. McIlroy, at 22 years, nine months and 22 days, was seeking to become the second-youngest golfer to top the Official World Golf Ranking after Tiger Woods, who was 21 years, five months and 17 days old when he first achieved the feat on June 15, 1997.
“He’ll be No. 1,” Mahan said of McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open. “He’s phenomenal. He’s really talented.”
Mahan, 29, is the first U.S. player to claim the World Match Play title since Woods won for a third time in 2008. The final was the first between a European and an American since Steve Stricker defeated Pierre Fulke of Sweden 11 years ago.
McIlroy was seeking to become the fifth European and second golfer from Northern Ireland after Darren Clarke in 2000 to win the event. A victory for McIlroy would have been the third straight for the U.K. at the tournament, which was won by Englishmen Donald and Ian Poulter the previous two years.
Mahan, who is projected to climb to a career-high ninth after starting the tournament ranked 22nd, never trailed in the final and birdied the sixth hole to take a lead he’d never relinquish. A six at the par-4 seventh after Mahan made a bogey cost McIlroy another hole.
A par was good enough at the next to allow Mahan to stretch his advantage and McIlroy found himself trailing by four when Mahan birdied No. 10.
McIlroy rallied with an eagle at the par-5 11th and a birdie at No. 14 to trail by two holes, which was as close as he’d get to Mahan.
Mahan’s putt to win the match at the 16th hole caught the lip of the cup and stayed out. The Texan sealed the victory at the next when both players made pars, leaving Mahan two ahead with one hole to play. The last time the finalists played the 18th hole was in 2002.
“Even though I threw a few birdies and an eagle at him in the back nine, he still responded well and held on,” McIlroy said in a news conference. “During the course of the week he’d played the best golf and deserved to win.”
In the consolation match, world No. 42 Mark Wilson of the U.S. defeated third-ranked Englishman Lee Westwood by one hole. Mahan beat Wilson 2-and-1 in the semifinals and Westwood lost 3-and-2 to McIlroy.
Third place is worth $600,000 to Wilson, $110,000 more than Westwood receives for finishing fourth.
Match play involves head-to-head competition over 18 holes, each one decided by the low score. The match is decided when one player has an insurmountable lead. In stroke-play events, which make up most of the world’s pro golf tours, the player with the lowest score wins the tournament.
Rookie John Huh won the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic in Riviera Maya, Mexico, yesterday by beating Robert Allenby on the eighth hole of a playoff. Huh made eight straight pars in the sudden-death playoff to win in his fifth PGA Tour start.
The PGA Tour moves to the PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach, Florida, for the Honda Classic from March 1-4, which Woods is scheduled to play in.
The next event on the European Tour is the Cadillac Championship, the second World Golf Championships event of the year, from March 8-11 at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami.