Hunter Mahan is in the hunt as wind abates

The sound of silence Thursday afternoon was a welcome noise to Hunter Mahan.

The Orange native, who played one season of golf at USC before transferring to Oklahoma State, had awakened to hear the wind humming and wondered how it would affect him when he teed off on the back nine at Riviera Country Club shortly past noon.

Gusts accompanied him for a while but quieted as he reached the front nine at the Northern Trust Open, perfect timing for Mahan to attack a course he visited as a kid and still reveres.

Mahan, who will be 30 in May, birdied the first, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes for a first-round score of 67, four under par and tying him for second with J.B. Holmes, one stroke behind Phil Mickelson. He almost couldn't believe his good fortune and good result, charming the media during a post-round interview. Mickelson was gone with the wind, bound for his private jet and a flight back to Carlsbad.

"The last five holes were about as good a weather as we're ever going to see," said Mahan, who has missed the cut here in three previous tries and finished 31st in 2008, tied for 17th in 2009 and tied for 55th last year.

"It was nice to kind of take advantage, to hit a lot of good shots and make some putts when I did, because it's a difficult golf course. It's not easy. You don't have to hit a really bad shot to put yourself in a bad spot."

Mahan moved to Texas with his family when he was 13 but he returned to California for the 2000-01 school year at USC. He was voted the Pacific 10 Conference freshman of the year but transferred to Oklahoma State, where he twice earned All-American honors. He joined the PGA Tour in 2004 and has three career victories, the last in 2010.

This was his best opening round at the Northern Trust Open, on a course he knows well. Mahan came here with his father, Monte, and worked here as a volunteer on the driving range. He sees its par threes as great equalizers, its layout not favorable to long hitters or short hitters, challenging but not intimidating.

"It's just a throwback golf course," he said. "It's not 7,500 yards. It's not these big massive greens. … It's just a great design that tests every aspect of your game."

He met that test Thursday with only a few stumbles. He bogeyed the par-four 15th hole and double-bogeyed the par-four 18th when the wind was at its strongest but settled into a comfortable rhythm on the front nine, interrupted only by a bogey on the par-three fourth.

"I hit it good all day, just a couple of loose swings," he said. "But other than that it was very solid from tee to green and I put myself in good position all day to kind of make putts."

It was probably Mahan's most noteworthy achievement since he teamed with fellow golfers Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane and Bubba Watson to form a group they call the Golf Boys and release a music video titled "Oh Oh Oh" last year. Dorky but hilarious, it has generated nearly 3 million hits on YouTube for the benefit of Crane's charity.

So far, there's no sequel planned.

"It's difficult, because how do you come back from something like that and duplicate it?" he said. "It would be tough to kind of trump that, I think."

His main concern is trumping Thursday's strong performance. His parents, who moved back to Orange County a few years ago, didn't see him Thursday but plan to come up for the weekend. He'd like to give them a better show than he did in that video, though he said for the moment he's avoiding the thought of hanging in with Mickelson.

"Back nine on Sunday, maybe you can. If it's me and him down the stretch I might worry about it more," he said. "He's a stud of a player and it would be great to compete with him on Sunday. That would be really a lot of fun."

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