PEBBLE BEACH -- Hunter Mahan can empathize a bit with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who played the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Thursday still haunted at coming up short in the Super Bowl just five days ago.
It's been two years, but Mahan is still somewhat haunted by his AT&T finish in 2011, when he shot 6-under 66 on the final day and didn't do too much wrong, yet three-putted the 18th green at Pebble Beach Golf Links and effectively handed the tournament to D.A. Points.
Mahan, a five-time PGA Tour winner and a two-time U.S. Ryder Cup representative, still looks back on that 2011 finish as one of the most bitter pills of his professional career.
"Three-putting the last hole at a pivotal time did not make me happy," Mahan, 30, said. "Definitely, 2011 left a bad taste in my mouth. I want to put myself in that position again and hopefully have a better result."
Well, he's in good early position. Mahan birdied five of the first eight holes and shot a 6-under 66 at the par-72 Pebble Beach Golf Links that gave him a share of the first-round lead with tour nonwinner Russell Knox, who shot a 6-under 64 at par-70 Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
Mahan was actually in decent position last year, too, but he closed with a 73 and finished tied for 15th. With Phil Mickelson running away with the tournament anyway in a head-to-head showdown with Tiger Woods, 2012 is but a foggy memory.
"I think maybe there was a
As for 2011, different story. It still stings. Mahan was two strokes behind Points going to the par-5 18th but hit two terrific shots to the green. But he ran his eagle putt 4 feet past the hole, then missed the comebacker. He finished with a par but knew it wouldn't be good enough.
"I felt like I should have played better and won the tournament," he said. "I felt like if I birdie the last hole, that would put more pressure on D.A., and he'd have to think about it more. Yeah, it still bothers me. But you know, it's also good motivation."
Mahan, regarded as one of the best players in the world who has not yet won a major, won twice last year and climbed as high as No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings after winning the Houston Open just before the Masters. He had just one top 10 finish the rest of the year, however, and is now 26th in the rankings with a couple of top 25s in his four events so far this season.
A native Californian from Orange, he loves Pebble Beach and sorely wants a win here on his resume. He understands the long grind of playing with amateurs, but said it's worth the extra investment in time to play these three Monterey courses, particularly Pebble Beach.
"You can get frustrated," he said. "I know I was the first couple years playing here. Then you realize it is what it is and it's not going to change. You just have to change yourself. It's not hard."
Knox, who got into the tournament with automatic conditional status after finishing 143rd on the tour money list in 2012, made eight birdies and two bogeys at MPCC. A 27-year-old with a best finish of ninth -- twice last year -- Knox said he decided to try out a new driver after Mickelson did so at last week's Phoenix Open and won the tournament.
"It worked," Knox said. "I drove it very well, and from the fairway on this course, you can have some shorter clubs in to the green. I came in here with some confidence, because I feel like I've been playing very well."
Mahan and Knox scored the best on a calm day at their respective courses, but they had plenty of players close on their heels. There was a six-way tie for third, just a stroke of the leaders. In that pack were Matt Every and Ted Potter Jr., who shot 5-under 67s at Pebble Beach, Greg Owen, Ryuji Imada and Scott Langley, who shot 5-under 65s at MPCC, and 21-year-old South Korean Seung-Yol Noh, who had the lowest score at Spyglass Hill, a 5-under 67.
One notable in the hunt was Lee Westwood, who shot a 4-under 66 at Pebble Beach, but Mickelson bogeyed two of his final five holes and shot a mere 1-under 69 at MPCC. Mickelson, a four-time champion here, was tied for 57th. Charlie Wi, last year's runner-up, shot an even-par 70 at MPCC and fellow Cal golfer James Hahn shot a 1-under 71 at Pebble Beach.
Dustin Johnson, who won the 2009 and 2010 AT&T events, struggled to a 3-over 73 at MPCC. Also, fan favorite John Daly shot 5-over 77 at Pebble Beach.