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Mahan fights back to claim spot in final pairing

Saturday - 7/20/2013, 4:06pm  ET

Hunter Mahan of the United States plays out of the bunker on the 4th hole during the third round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Saturday July 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

JIM LITKE
AP Sports Writer

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- After his disappointing fade down the stretch of the U.S. Open, Hunter Mahan guaranteed he'd be ready the next time he went off in the final pair on the last day of a major.

He won't have to wait long to prove it.

The Texan left the British Open late Saturday afternoon as one of only three golfers with a red number alongside his name, a good measure of how Muirfield has manhandled the world's best. Mahan's 3-under 68 was tied for best round of the day, and left him two strokes behind third-round leader and Sunday playing partner Lee Westwood.

Just a month ago, Mahan found himself in last group with Phil Mickelson at Merion Golf Club, another demanding layout where he strung together one tough par after another, only to fall out of contention with a double-bogey at the 15th. He finished tied for fifth and said at the time that experience wouldn't go to waste.

"Does it help?" Mahan said. "I think it does. Because I think it can be overwhelming at times. Being in the first or second, last groups there, to have everybody following you and seeing all the scores and everything, it can be overwhelming."

Mahan called his third round here, following back-to-back 72s, a "team effort." By that he meant nearly every part of his game was clicking. But considering that he ranks near the middle of the pack in finding fairways and greens here, it's been the shorter clubs -- the putter and wedges -- that have done most of the heavy lifting.

He's tied for the lead in birdies with 13, and his play around the greens has been strictly top 10. His first two birdies of the day provided a good illustration: At No. 1, he hit a wedge into a foot; at No. 2, he rolled in a 50-foooter.

To some extent, Mahan is still remembered over here for losing the final singles match in the 2010 Ryder Cup, after asking to have the pressure of the anchor spot put squarely on his shoulders. It wound up deciding the cup and left him in tears.

Never mind that Mahan was one of the stars of the U.S. cup victory in 2008, going unbeaten in all five of his matches as a rookie. So perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised by a question here about what's kept him from "closing the deal" in the biggest events.

"Not being good enough, I guess," he replied. "My short game hasn't probably been as strong as it needed to be."

Yet his play this week, not to mention the confidence that's instilled in Mahan, suggested this time could be different.

"But I'm chipping and putting, I think, great and doing all the right things. So I feel comfortable ... with my game and excited about the opportunity to go out there, trust it and let it happen.


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