Barnes beats Mahan in U.S. Amateur final
by Harry Atkins
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) ? Ricky Barnes switched from a plain black shirt to a festive Hawaiian number between the morning and afternoon rounds of the U.S. Amateur championship match.
Good thing he was ready to party, too.
Barnes, using a dazzling combination of power and finesse, beat Hunter Mahan 2 and 1 Sunday at Oakland Hills Country Club, where the 2004 Ryder Cup Matches will be played.
"I'm on top of the world right now," said Barnes, a senior at Arizona. "I'm sure we will stay up and have some fun tonight."
Barnes will have his name engraved on the Havemeyer Trophy alongside such notables as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. If he remains an amateur, the winner will receive an automatic berth in the next U.S. Open and traditionally has been invited to play in the Masters. The runner-up also traditionally has received a spot in the Masters.
The long-hitting Barnes, of Stockton, Calif., won the final three holes in the morning round, building a 2-up lead he never relinquished. The championship turned, as so often happens at Oakland Hills, at No. 16, a deceptively dangerous 406-yard par-4.
It was at No. 16 at Oakland Hills in 1972 where Gary Player hit his approach to 4 feet for the birdie that clinched a two-stroke victory over Tommy Aaron and Jim Jamieson in the PGA Championship. That major championship returns in 2008 to the course dubbed "The Monster" by Ben Hogan after winning the 1951 U.S. Open.
Mahan, of McKinney, Texas, hit his drive on No. 16 into the right rough, then compounded the situation by hitting his next two shots from the ankle-deep grass into the pond that protects the green.
Barnes, who hit several of his booming drives into the rough, left the driver in the bag at the 16th, spliting the fairway with an iron off the tee. He hit his second shot to 7 feet of the cup.
As a result, Mahan - rather than hit his fifth shot, still from across the pond - conceded the birdie to Barnes and the match was even.
"I was trying to hit a wedge out of the water there, I mean out of the rough," the dejected Mahan said. "I just gave it to him."
Still, there was more heartache to follow.
Mahan, the 1999 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, saw his 5-foot putt for birdie lip out at No. 17, then Barnes tapped in a 2-foot birdie to go 1-up.
"Missing that putt bothered Hunter more than the balls in the water," said Mahan's father, Monte, a golf instructor near Dallas. "But, he'll be OK. He's going to the Masters."
Both players reached the 462-yard 18th, playing as a par 4 for the Amateur, in regulation. Both were well left of the pin, with wide U-shaped tracks to the cup from about 35 feet away. But Mahan, a junior at Oklahoma State, three-putted, while Barnes got down in two to par the hole and go 2-up.
"I bet you a few up-and-downs might have surprised him a little bit," said Barnes, who trailed in four of his six matches. "Sometimes, I even surprise myself out there."
Barnes, the son of former New England Patriots kicker Bruce Barnes, increased his lead to 4-up after 26 holes.
Mahan made a late charge, narrowing the gap to 2-up with a fist-pumping 50-foot eagle putt at No. 12, the 30th hole.
Barnes got it back to 3-up with a 10-foot birdie on the 31st hole, but Mahan responded with a 27-foot birdie putt on No. 15, the 33nd hole to cut the gap to 2-up again.
After halving No. 16, the 34th hole, Mahan knew he had to win the par-3 17th to keep the match alive. It looked like he had a chance, too.
Mahan's tee shot on the par 3 was on the green, about 45 feet from the pin, while Barnes left his tee shot in the rough on a slope behind the green. But Mahan's putt for a possible birdie came up 7 feet short.
That was all the opening Barnes needed. He hit a nice little flop shot out of the thick rough and joyously tossed his wedge back to his brother Andy, his caddie, almost before the ball landed on the putting surface. He knew the shot was that good.
Clapping his hands above his head, Barnes danced down to toward the cup and was still celebrating when the ball finally stopped about 6 inches from the cup.
"I'm not a very shy guy," Barnes said.
The players hugged as USGA officials rolled out a red carpet on the green for award presentation.