|Hunter Mahan fends off challengers to win 2012 Shell Houston Open - April 02, 2012
BY ED FOWLER
It wasn’t quite as simple as a big lottery score, but Hunter Mahan never made an easier million.
The Dallas pro moseyed around Redstone Golf Club in one under par on Sunday, stuffed $1,080,000 into his sack and headed for Augusta, Ga. We didn’t see him stifle a yawn but we can’t be certain.
Carl Pettersson matched Mahan’s 71 and took second. Louis Oosthuizen, the third-round leader, shot 75 and claimed third, two shots behind the winner. Phil Mickelson, the 2011 champion, shot 71 and shared fourth with Jeff Overton (68), Keegan Bradley (71) and Brian Davis (74).
Mahan’s most dramatic play on the way to the 2012 Shell Houston Open title propelled his ball all of 25 yards. On the par-3 16th, he pulled his tee ball long and left and faced a chip from the fringe that would have put a scowl on Mary Poppins’ face.
Playing from the tier above that on which the hole was cut, if he chipped onto the green he would have to play well to the left of the hole. If he chipped short, landing his ball in the fringe, he could play directly toward the hole but ran the risk of running well past it. Mahan chose the bold option of playing a flop that landed on the lower tier. His ball stopped 15 inches from the hole.
That par, in the end, was enough to bag the title and make him the first two-time champion of the season. Mahan won the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in February. He’s just a few nickels and dimes short of $3 million in earnings for the year.
Mahan shot 69-67-65 for the first three rounds. His beefier number on Sunday reflected higher scores for the field overall. A brisker wind was a factor, but a lesser one than tougher pin placements. Grinding out a win on a day that he led for most of the round, to Mahan’s way of thinking, was the perfect tonic.
“Most of my other wins have come from behind,” he said. “This was a little different. It was nice to come through when I had to. I had to have a lot of patience, couldn’t start thinking too far ahead. There’s too many good players up there. I felt like I won it with the mental side of my game, more so than the physical side. That feels nice.”
A top amateur in his teens who went on to an outstanding career at Oklahoma State, he might have taken a step up on Sunday to superstar status on the world stage. This victory vaulted him to the No. 4 ranking in the world, best among the Americans.
Six weeks short of his 30th birthday, he has spent almost a decade on tour. He clearly feels he has moved up to a more mature place. “I felt like this week my mind was key,” he said again. “If I had one or two bad holes, if I had a funny stretch where things were going off kilter, I was able to get it back right away.
“It’s easy to talk yourself into doing crazy things in this game, easy to let your mind running wild and get down on yourself. That’s what I used to do and I’m not doing it any more. I’m trying to pump myself up more and just believe in myself. I saw what I was doing before and it stunk. You’ve got to enjoy this stuff. It’s an honor and a pleasure to be in these tough situations. This is what you work for – to be in these fun tight, tense situations.”
With Mahan grinding, only Pettersson had a chance to generate some drama – and a playoff – at the final hole. He struck two excellent blows to leave 18 feet, 11 inches for birdie. He rolled his ball 18-9.
“I decelerated on it,” he said. “I hit two great shots. I thought it was a quicker putt, but I decelerated a little bit. It was right in the middle. You know, 18 is a difficult hole, but I should have given it a better run than I did. What can you do?”
Most of the drama came in the form of early tragedy. Oosthuizen played 54 holes in a better score, in relation to par, than Mahan’s 72-hole total. He’d probably prefer to forget the details but we can recap briefly.
He played the front nine in five over with two double-bogeys, on the par-4 fifth and par-3 eighth, plus two bogeys against one birdie. His misadventures were due more to buzzard’s luck than poor play – a good drive that stopped in a divot, a couple more shots that picked up mud on fairways still wet from a Thursday downpour.
“I can’t really pinpoint hitting terrible shots,” he said. “I had horrific lies on 5 and 8 and some bad bounces. It happens. Another day it goes my way.”
He fought back bravely with three birdies on the back to finish within two of the lead.
After all was said and done, it was a day for a survivor and Mahan stepped up to fill the role. He didn’t make a birdie until No. 9, a 238-yard par 3, when a well-struck 3-iron downwind left a five-foot putt. He pushed his lead to two with a birdie on No. 10 and bogeyed the 14th to slip back to one better than Petterson. His bold play on 16 sealed the deal.
“I just had to make sure I was aggressive and committed to it and I was,” he said. “And as soon as I saw it in the air and it took the first hop I thought it was going to be good. But a tap in there, you know, was huge.”