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PARAMUS, N.J. – Hunter Mahan knew he was on the verge of something special, even with a record that looked ordinary by his standards.
He had gone nearly 30 months and 48 tournaments worldwide without winning. He was No. 62 in the FedEx Cup, with no guarantee of lasting more than two tournaments. He finished 25th in the Ryder Cup standings and was not even part of the conversation as a potential wild-card pick.
He felt great about how he was playing. The hard part was to stay calm with his emotions, his swing and his game and to "just let everything happen."
"And it did," he said. "And obviously I made some huge putts coming down the stretch."
In a traffic jam of contenders Sunday at The Barclays, Mahan pulled away with five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine at Ridgewood, including three in a row late in the final round that sealed the win. With a bogey he could afford — though he could have done without the drama until he made an 8-foot bogey putt — Mahan closed with a 6-under 65 for a 14-under-270 total and a two-shot victory in the opening playoff event for the FedEx Cup.
He won by two shots over Jason Day, who couldn't manage anything but pars over the last four holes and shot 68; Stuart Appleby, who had to scramble for par on the last two holes for a 65; and Cameron Tringale, who made bogey from the trees on the final hole for a 66.
It was the sixth career win for Mahan, which includes a pair of World Golf Championships, though this might have surpassed considering what was at stake. It had been since the Shell Houston Open in the spring of 2012 since he had won. It assures that he will play all four playoff events for the eighth straight year, and it guarantees him a clear shot at the $10 million bonus when the FedEx Cup ends at East Lake with the Tour Championship.
And it was sure to get the attention of Tom Watson, the U.S. captain who makes his three Ryder Cup picks in eight days. Watson has said he was looking for heart, and Mahan showed plenty of that on a day in which six players had at least a share of the lead.
"A win helps a lot," Mahan said. "I have no idea what he's thinking or if he has any sort of strategy. But I think a win is a good step in the right direction."
The first playoff event was filled with winners and losers:
MAHAN'S MOVE: Mahan is the only player to have never missed a FedEx Cup playoff event since this series began in 2007. That was in jeopardy until he won Sunday and moved to the top of the standings. Mahan, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker are the only players to reach the Tour Championship every year. Stricker was eliminated from the playoffs by withdrawing from The Barclays with a hip injury. Mickelson missed the 54-hole cut and is now No. 57.
Only the top 30 reach the Tour Championship.
SILVER MEDALS: Tringale had never finished better than third in his brief PGA Tour career, and this was an ideal time to finish second. Because points are five times the value in the playoffs, being part of a three-way tie for second moved him from No. 61 to No. 10. That all but assures him of advancing to the Tour Championship, which gets Tringale into the first three majors — including his first trip to the Masters.
Appleby goes from No. 98 to No. 19 and has a reasonable chance of getting to the Tour Championship. He has not played any major since the 2011 Masters.
OGILVY TO BOSTON: The top 100 advance to the next round of the FedEx Cup playoffs at the TPC Boston. Geoff Ogilvy was No. 90 and missed the cut, and it looked as though his season would be over. But a peculiar chain-reaction of events sends him to the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Troy Merritt could have bumped Ogilvy out of the top 100 until he missed a 10-foot par putt on the 18th hole. Merritt still had a chance to pick up a few more points depending on two other players — a bogey by Jerry Kelly or Brendon Todd. Kelly nearly holed out from off the green at No. 18 and saved par, and Todd made a 15-foot par putt on the last hole. Ogilvy finished at No. 100 by two points over Merritt.
FURYK'S HOPES: Jim Furyk was tied for the lead going into the final round. He didn't convert enough birdies and didn't save enough pars and shot 70 to finish eighth. Furyk now is 0-for-8 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead since his last victory in the 2010 Tour Championship.
"It's golf," Furyk said. "I didn't die out there today. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me. I've played great this year. I've played very good this year — I won't say great because I haven't won."
THE TROPHY: Mahan was posing for the trophy with his biggest fan, David Finn, who has a disorder in his limbs that keeps him in a wheelchair and unable to speak. When he went to leave, he picked the crystal up by its top and it broke off at the bottom. It was the only thing that went wrong for him Sunday. And the trophy can be replaced.