Robert Allenby practiced sparingly this week because he was feeling so good about his game. (Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Allenby and Mahan ride Firestone momentum to opening 69s
Few players were more eager to get going on Thursday than Robert Allenby and Hunter Mahan. Both finished strong last Sunday, and both immediately climbed right up the scoreboard at Hazeltine.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
CHASKA, Minn. -- It's hard to imagine two players who rode more momentum into the 91st PGA Championship than Hunter Mahan and Robert Allenby.
OK. So Tiger Woods comes to mind. But that's pretty much a given wherever the world No. 1 plays and that win last week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, his second in as many weeks, was just more fuel for the ever-burning fire.
Allenby surged into a tie for second behind Woods, though, with a sizzling 66 on Sunday, his fourth sub-par round on a major-league layout at Firestone Country Club. Mahan shared fourth, which marked the fourth time he'd finished sixth or better in his last five starts.
So it's no surprise to see the two open with rounds of 3-under 69 at Hazeltine on Thursday that left them two strokes off the pace being set by Woods. Allenby had five birdies and a double bogey in the first round while Mahan made four birdies and dropped a single shot to par.
"It feels like it's been forever since last Sunday," Allenby said. "Obviously I finished strong last Sunday and I had some good momentum coming into this tournament. ... I was already ready. So I didn't want to overdo it. I played nine holes each day and didn't practice much. And I felt like I was ready to play today. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."
Mahan, who has only missed one cut in 19 starts this season, agreed.
"I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing right now," the 27-year-old said. "I can't ask to swing any better. I feel real comfortable on this golf course. Everything feels good. I have to keep doing what I'm doing right now and keep a good head about me."
Mahan and Allenby have something else in common, too -- both are trying to make the Presidents Cup. The 10 automatic qualifiers will be finalized Sunday at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.
Allenby appears to have sewn up a spot on his fifth team with that runner-up finish at Firestone that moved him from 11th to eighth in the International Team standings. Mahan moved up one spot to 12th and needs to finish solo fourth or better to potentially move into the American top 10. Captain's Picks to round out the 12-man rosters will be made Sept. 8.
“It’s very, very important to me,” Mahan said on Wednesday. “I’ve got business to do this week. … I can’t do much about it right now. All I can do is play well and make (U.S. Captain) Fred (Couples) take notice. Luckily I’ve been through it for the last two years. You’ve just got to go play golf."
Mahan did that very well on Thursday. He started on the 10th hole and rolled in a 15-footer at the par-5 15th to make the turn 1 under. Birdie putts of 10 and 12 feet followed at Nos. 2 and 3 before he two-putted the seventh from 30 feet for his third birdie on one of Hazeltine's four par 5s.
"Played well. Hit it good. Did all the right things," Mahan said simply. "Hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. And played it pretty well. I gave myself a lot of good looks for birdie. Just could have made a few more. But pretty happy to get off to a good start."
Mahan, who won the 2007 Travelers Championship, tied for 10th at the Masters and sixth at the U.S. Open before missing the cut at Turnberry. His confidence, as a result, is high and the consistency of his season speaks for itself.
"I felt good all year with majors and stuff," Mahan said. "But I feel very confident in what I'm doing. I think I know how to fix it if it goes wrong. And I'm trusting it, which is extremely important."
Allenby's ball-striking was spot-on Thursday as he hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He continued to putt well, too, further testament to the grip change he made on the advice of Vijay Singh a month ago.
"There were some putts out there today that I thought I made them and they just didn't turn or they bounced off line or something like that," Allenby said. "The greens, you have to be pretty careful with them because when they are soft like these ones, the feet marks are going to show up and the spike marks. ... But the front nine I pretty had much perfect greens, then in the back nine it was a little tricky on some putts, a few indentations there, but it felt great."
The only negative for Allenby came at the 642-yard, par-5 15th hole. He hit a good drive down the left side, only to see it plug in the fairway bunker. So he took a 9-iron and blasted out about 25 yards, then tried to "smash" a 3-wood but ended up short of the left front bunker. His fourth shot caught the downslope and ran across and over the green. He chipped on a two-putted for the double bogey.
"But I bounced back nicely with 16 with a birdie there," Allenby said. "Pretty much all day I hit the ball well. I putted well. You're going to make some mistakes, I guess. And as long as I can keep them to a minimum, (I'll be OK). The whole game, it's all there. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it.
"I felt comfortable all day. I even felt comfortable as I was making my double bogey. So that's going to happen. You're going to have some good holes and you're going to have some bad ones. And I think I can accept taking a double bogey. Yeah, it would have been nice to finish at 4 under or 5 under, but there's a lot of golf to be played."