By ALISTAIR TAIT
VIRGINIA WATER, England – You can take the boy out of Oklahoma State, but you can never take Oklahoma State out of the boy. Four years after finishing his college career, Hunter Mahan is still living off lessons from legendary Cowboy coach Mike Holder.
Those lessons might just propel Mahan to victory in the HSBC World Match Play Championship.
The 25-year-old former two-time all-American continued to fly the Stars and Stripes at the Wentworh Club with another comprehensive victory, this time a 6-and-4 quarterfinal victory over Sweden’s Soren Hansen.
Mahan stuck to a steady diet of fairways and greens to defeat the unheralded Swede.
“I felt like I carried on where I left off against Justin (Rose),” Mahan said. “I maybe even played a little better. I’m getting to know the course and today I hit a ton of fairways and greens.”
Proof of how Mahan has finally learned the wisdom of Holder’s ways came on the seventh hole in the afternoon round. After losing the sixth to see his lead trimmed back to 3 up, Mahan again found trouble when he bunkered his second shot with a short iron.
Such a mistake in the past would have had Mahan seeing red. Not now. He kept his calm, and got up-and-down for par to maintain his 3-up advantage.
“I had a problem in college golf with my attitude after bad shots. It would take me a while to get over them,” said Mahan. “Coach Holder always drummed into me to leave bad shots in the past and move on.
“That’s prevalent in the game of golf, but coach Holder had the sense to see that it was a particular problem for me. He worked hard to try to get that out of me, and it’s something I’ve worked hard on since I turned pro.
“It’s taken me this long to realize how important it is to keep looking forward and not back, because that’s just so destructive.”
Mahan came of age this season when he won the Travelers Championship after defeating Jay Williamson in a playoff, his first PGA Tour victory.
He now must get past U.S. Open Champion Angel Cabrera Saturday if he is to secure his second win of the season, and with it a check for $1.9 million.
“No question he’s longer than me off the tee,” Mahan said about the long hitting Argentinean, “but I’m not going to be trying to do keep up with him. I’ll just play my own game.”
Mahan’s lopsided win was nothing unusual on a day when none of the four quarterfinal matches went past the 15th hole.
Cabrera dispatched defending champion Paul Casey, 4 and 3. The Argentinean took advantage of Casey’s poor play on the Wentworth greens.
“I horsehoed and lipped out too many putts,” Casey said.
Denmark’s Anders Hansen made a hole-in-one at the 10th, but even that could not stop him from going down to long bomber Henrik Stenson. Hansen needed that ace just to get back to 7 down. Stenson ran out an easy 7-and-6 winner.
Stenson began the season with two victories – the Dubai Desert Classic and the WGC Accenture Match Play – and looked like he was going to take the world by storm. It’s been all downhill since then.
The Swede has searched for answers to no avail.
“I haven’t any ideas,” Stenson said. “I’ve just been struggling. Maybe the head hasn’t been in the right place.”
Stenson pointed to an allergy to grass that hinders him in the summer months, and the birth of his first child as reasons for keeping him back. He’s hoping to put things right with victory here.
If Stenson is to end the year on a high, he will first have to get past Wentworth specialist Ernie Els in the semifinals.
Els, a six-time winner of the World Match Play, had a comfortable 6-and-5 victory over Andres Romero. The South African has home court advantage over the rest of the field. He owns a home on the Wentworth Estate, and is responsible for re-designing the famous West Course.
Els is also looking for a victory to make up for a mediocre, so far winless season.
He is odds on favorite over Stenson, and favorite to make this year’s World Match Play his seventh title in 14 years. However, Stenson was quick to point out that he’s already beaten Els this year.
“We played all four rounds in Dubai this year,” Stenson said. “That one worked out pretty good.”
Seems Mahan isn’t the only one feeding off lessons learned in the past.
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Alistair Tait is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail [email protected]
Results from the quarterfinals of the HSBC World Match Play Championship, played Oct. 12 at the Wentworth Club (West) in Virginia Water, England:
Angel Cabrera def. Paul Casey 4 and 3 Hunter Mahan def. Soren Hansen 6 and 4 Henrik Stenson def. Anders Hansen 7 and 6 Ernie Els def. Andres Romero 6 and 5
Paul Casey def. Jerry Kelly 3 and 2 Angel Cabrera def. Retief Goosen 6 and 5 Hunter Mahan def. Justin Rose 5 and 4 Soren Hansen def. Rory Sabbatini 4 and 3 Anders Hansen def. Padraig Harrington 4 and 2 Henrik Stenson def. Woody Austin 1 up Andreas Romero def. Niclas Fasth 3 and 2 Ernie Els def. Colin Montgomerie 6 and 5