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By Steve Keating
ROCHESTER, New York (Reuters) - Having already won golf's Father of the Year honors, Hunter Mahan will turn his focus to winning his first major this week as he returns to work at the PGA Championship following the birth of his first child.
Mahan, who walked away from a potential million dollar payday at the Canadian Open two weeks ago to return home to Dallas after his wife went into labor, has soaked up well-wishes from his fellow players and endless praise from golf fans all week for putting his family ahead of his job.
"I haven't met anyone who has said I made the wrong decision," said an in-form Mahan, who turned his back on a two-shot lead going into the third round of the Canadian Open to be with his wife.
"But it's been pretty much a consensus of people saying I did the right thing. Everyone knows someone who has given birth or had a child and I think everyone knows how special it is.
"I think people are just ready for a great story in sports, and it was a great time."
A storybook finish to this feel-good tale would see Mahan walking away from the year's final major holding the Wanamaker Trophy in one arm and his daughter Zoe in the other.
Mahan has been knocking on the major door recently and the 31-year-old American will be on the shortlist of contenders when action gets underway on Thursday at stately Oak Hill Country Club.
A five-time winner on the PGA Tour, Mahan has six top-10 finishes at the majors, including two this year after playing in the final pairing going into the last day at both the U.S. and British Opens.
"It's been very encouraging to be in the final group in a major; I think it's a great accomplishment, because you're in the last group out there and you get to see what everybody else does," said Mahan.
"You can see why Tiger (Woods) and why those guys want to be in the last group. I feel like it's somewhat calming in a way, or at least that's what I felt, because you kind of know what everyone is doing and you get a sense of everything.
"You know you're playing well and so you can just go out there and play golf and enjoy the experience."
Mahan, however, has been unable to turn good form at the majors into a victory.
In last month's British Open at Muirfield, Mahan struggled on the final day before finishing joint ninth, having shared fourth place at the U.S. Open five weeks earlier.
"I don't know what's held me back," shrugged Mahan. "It's hard to win tournaments out here. It's not easy. Phil (Mickelson) played unbelievable at the British Open and no one was going to beat him that day.
"I felt like at the U.S. Open, I wasn't that far off. I just had one or two shots that hurt me. I've just got to keep working, keep getting better at my all-around game, and I think I'll get there."
Mahan's only competition for the unofficial crown of PGA Tour's Father of Year might have been Mickelson, who made a coast-to-coast trip on the eve of the U.S. Open at Merion to attend his daughter's graduation in California.
This week, the on-course competition will be much tougher at Oak Hill where Mahan estimates that as many as 30 golfers have a shot at the PGA title.
"The depth and quality of the field now is pretty remarkable, especially at majors," he said. "I know it seemed like when I first joined the Tour there was maybe a handful of guys who could win and had a legitimate chance and by Sunday they were all up there.
"Now, there might be 20 guys with a legitimate chance when they step on the tee, maybe 25, 30, when they step on the tee on Thursday with a chance to win and they have the games and potential to do that.
"This is a world-class field and this is a world-class golf course, so you're going to have to play your best to win this week."
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)