Houston Open champ moves to No. 4 in world

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Associated Press
April 2, 2012
— Hunter Mahan doesn’t dwell on bad shots anymore, and he says that’s leading to more good ones.

Mahan shot a 1-under 71 on Sunday to win the Houston Open, edging out Carl Pettersson by one stroke and becoming the first two-time champion on the tour in 2012.

The 29-year-old Mahan finished 16 under for the tournament and moved to No. 4 in the world ranking, the first time he’s ever been the highest-ranked American.

“That’s a pretty surreal thing to think about,” Mahan said. “It shows me what I can do, shows me what I’m capable of.”

The 29-year-old Mahan feels as if he finally has the mental approach to match his 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.”

Mahan earned his fifth career victory. He has six top-25 finishes in seven starts this year, including a victory over Rory McIlroy in the final of the Match Play Championships in February.

“You’ve got to enjoy this stuff,” Mahan said. “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.”

The new attitude got another pressurized test on Sunday.

Standing on the 18th tee with a one-stroke lead, Mahan confidently hit his tee shot down the middle of the fairway, then knocked his 203-yard approach to 21 feet. He gave caddie John Wood a high-five when the ball landed safely on the green.

“Absolutely awesome,” Wood said.

The tournament became the run-up event to the Masters in 2007, and Mahan has never felt better about his game heading to Augusta.

“I feel very capable of playing great golf, and I feel like I showed myself I don’t have to be perfect to win,” he said. “That’s a great thing to feel, for sure.”

Pettersson (71) finished with eight pars for his second runner-up finish this year. Third-round leader Louis Oosthuizen (75) was another shot back at 14 under.

Mahan began the day two shots behind Oosthuizen, who lost the lead with two double bogeys on his front nine.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson (71), Keegan Bradley (71), Brian Davis (74) and Jeff Overton (68) all finished 12 under.

Three-time major champion Ernie Els finished 10 under and fell short in his bid to earn an automatic invitation to this week’s Masters. Els needed a victory to avoid missing Augusta for the first time since 1993.

“It’s not going to change my life, either way,” Els said. “I’ve played many out there. It’s one of those things.”

The Masters could offer a special invitation to Els, like tournament officials did for Greg Norman in 2002.

Els has played well this year, earning top-five finishes at the Transitions and Bay Hill. But he said Sunday he would decline an invitation if he received one at the last minute.

“To go through all of

this, and then get an invite, I wouldn’t take it,” he said. “They can keep it.”

LPGA Kraft Nabisco

At Rancho Mirage, Calif., Sun Young Yoo won the Kraft Nabisco Championship with an 18-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole Sunday, earning her first major title after I.K. Kim missed a 1-foot putt on the final hole of regulation.

Yoo won the LPGA Tour’s first major of the season with steady play down the stretch, but she got to make the traditional leap into Poppie’s Pond only after Kim’s mind-boggling miss on the same green minutes earlier.

Yoo, who earned her second career LPGA Tour victory, and Kim finished at 9 under, but Kim could have all but wrapped up her first major with the tap-in par putt.

Kim might have struck the ball oddly, and it toured the lip of the cup before coming out on the same side it entered.

Kim’s unbelievable miss on the Dinah Shore course will go down in tournament lore after a thoroughly wacky final round in which five players held the lead.

Kim had been the most consistent contender amid those wild momentum swings, going bogey-free through 17 holes—until she missed the short putt.

Kim and Yoo shot 69 in the final round.

Top-ranked Yani Tseng finished third at 8 under with a disappointing final-round 73.

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