AFTER his second win of the season the unassuming Hunter Mahan will go into the 2012 US Masters this week as the highest ranked American golfer.
Mahan reached a career high world ranking of No.4 when he took the 2012 Shell Houston Open by a stroke over Sweden’s Carl Pettersson at the Redstone Golf Club.
The 29-year-old shot a final round 1-under 71 to finish on 16-under and become the first two-time winner on the tour this year and to go to the top of the season long FedEx Cup points race.
Mahan beat Rory McIlroy in the final of the WGC-Match Play Championship in February and will go into the year’s first major in better shape than ever.
“That’s a pretty surreal thing to think about,” Mahan said of his new world ranking. “It shows me what I can do, shows me what I’m capable of.”
Mahan, an unassuming sort of person who appeared almost shy when he was in Melbourne last year for the Presidents Cup, feels he finally has the mental approach to match his long touted physical skills. He credits Canadian sports psychologist Jim Murphy with teaching him to enjoy the game more, and that’s led to better results.
“It’s easy to let your mind run wild and get down on yourself,” Mahan said. “That’s what I used to do. I’m trying to pump myself up more and just believe in myself.”
“You’ve got to enjoy this stuff. It’s kind of an honor and a pleasure to be in these tough situations. This is what you work for, to be in these fun, tough, tight situations.”
Overnight leader and former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen faded in the final round to post a 3-over 75 but showed enough to suggest he might be yet another pesky South African potentially giving the Aussies grief at Augusta this year.
Defending Houston Open champion Phil Mickelson (71), Keegan Bradley (71), Brian Davis (74) and Jeff Overton (68) all finished fourth at 12 under.
Senden the leading Aussie
The in-form John Senden carded a final-round 74 to finish tied for 18th and be the best placed Australian on 7-under while Marc Leishman (72), who has also been thereabouts often this year, finished a further shot back but sadly won’t be making it to the 2012 Masters.
Rod Pampling (70) finished at 6-under, Mathew Goggin (71) was on 5-under while Robert Allenby and Masters starter Aaron Baddeley were among those missing the cut.
Ernie Els is one South African who won’t be at Augusta.
Three-time major champion finished at 10-under and fell short in his bid to earn an automatic invitation. He will miss the event for the first time since 1993.
‘‘It’s not going to change my life, either way,’’ said Els, adding that he wouldn’t even take a special invitation if it was offered by Masters organisers.
“To go through all of this, and then get an invite, I wouldn’t take it,’’ he said. “They can keep it.’’
Stage set for a thrilling Masters
So the stage is now set for what should be a thrilling 2012 Masters tournament. There’s the undoubted rise of the prodigiously talented Rory McIlroy, the resurgence of Tiger Woods and the many other strong chances we could name.
Last year we actually predicted a big showing from Hunter Mahan (but we wouldn’t want to do that to him again.) Maybe we were just a year too early.
Australia has six contenders – the big guns in last year’s runners-up Adam Scott and Jason Day, the only current Major winner in Geoff Ogilvy, the in-form John Senden, a no-doubt bruised but more than capable Aaron Baddeley, and amateur Bryden Macpherson.2012 Houston Open Final Results