"Am I supposed to put this on, Kentucky Derby style?" he said.
That would have been fitting. The closing stretch was exactly what he needed Sunday.
Mahan pulled away with three straight birdies, sealing the victory with a 20-foot putt down the slope on the par-5 17th. That allowed him a bogey from the trees on the final hole for a 6-under 65 and a two-shot victory in the opening FedEx Cup playoff event.
He already has two World Golf Championships. Considering the timing, The Barclays felt bigger.
Mahan had gone 48 tournaments and nearly 30 months since his last victory. The only player to never miss a FedEx Cup playoff event, he wanted to keep alive his streak of reaching the Tour Championship every year since this series began in 2007. And he wanted to state his case for a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup team.
This performance will be hard for U.S. captain Tom Watson to ignore.
"To get a win in an event like this, and the timing that it was, it feels unbelievable," Mahan said.
"This game is all about winning," he said. "You can have a great year and if you don't win, it just feels like you missed out on something. So to get a win, and do it in a tournament like this in this kind of fashion with a 65 on Sunday, feels great."
On a day when six players had at least a share of the lead, Mahan found a way to make it look like a comfortable win at Ridgewood.
He rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt to take the outright lead on the par-3 15th, hit wedge to 3 feet for a birdie on the 16th and then rolled in a 20-foot birdie on the par-5 17th. That stretched his lead to three shots going to the final hole when Cameron Tringale bogeyed the 18th.
Mahan tried to make it a little more exciting that he needed it to be. He drove into the trees on the right, pitched back to the fairway, pulled his approach into the rough and kept the outcome in doubt until he made the 8-foot bogey putt.
Jason Day, who shared the 54-hole lead with Jim Furyk, would have needed to hole out from the rough on the 18th to force a playoff and he missed the green. Day closed with a 68 and shared second place with Stuart Appleby (65) and Tringale, who celebrated his 27th birthday with a 66.
Furyk now has failed to win the last eight times he has held at least a share of the lead going into the final round. He was in the mix until missing the fairway on the 14th and taking bogey, and he wound up with a 70 to finish in eighth place, four shots behind.
Mahan posed with the crystal trophy with his wife and 1-year-old daughter who flew in to surprise him. He wanted one more picture with David Finn, his biggest fan and a popular figure in these parts. Finn is in a wheelchair with a disorder affecting his limbs and leaving him unable to speak.
Mahan got up to leave, picked up the trophy by its top and the bottom mysteriously broke off.
That can be replaced. The victory was one Mahan won't soon forget.
"There's really never a bad time to play good golf," he said. "And this is a really, really good time to play good golf."
Tringale began the week with questions about disqualifying himself from the PGA Championship several days after the final major ended. He said he had doubts about whether he whiffed a tap-in for bogey and thus signed for a wrong score. He said he wanted a clear conscience.
"Didn't expect it to be this clear," Tringale said with a smile.
This was the best finish of his career, and it paid off handsomely. Tringale, who was No. 61 in the standings, moved all the way up to No. 10 and is virtually certain of being in the Tour Championship, which puts him in the majors next year - including his first trip to the Masters.
The top 100 players in the FedEx Cup standings advance to the second playoff event next week outside Boston. Seven players outside the top 100 at the start of the week qualified for the Deutsche Bank Championship, including Morgan Hoffmann at No. 124. Hoffman, who grew up minutes away from Ridgewood, played with Mahan and had a 69 to tie for ninth.
Geoff Ogilvy earned the 100th spot, only it wasn't in his hands. Ogilvy missed the cut, and his chances came down to Brendon Todd, who made a 15-foot par putt on the last hole. If Todd had missed the putt, Troy Merritt would have been at No. 100 by about a half-point.
Mahan finished at 14-under 270 and earned $1.44 million. He moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, assured of being among the top five players at East Lake with the best shot at capturing the $10 million bonus.
British Open and PGA champion Rory McIlroy, going after his fourth straight victory, closed with a 70 and tied for 22nd.