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Hunter Mahan heads to the Masters Tournament as the top-ranked American golfer in the world after a one-shot victory at the Houston Open.
With his fifth career U.S. PGA Tour win and second this season, Mahan climbs to No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, supplanting Steve Stricker as the top American.
Mahan, 29, will now look to join another select group. Only Sandy Lyle in 1988 and Phil Mickelson in 2006 have won in the week prior to the Masters and gone on to wear the champion’s green jacket at the Augusta National Golf Club.
“I take a lot from this week but Augusta is its own animal so I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Mahan told reporters. “I feel very capable of playing great golf and I feel like I showed myself I don’t need to be perfect to win.”
In five previous trips to the Masters, Mahan’s best results were a tie for eighth place two years ago and a tie for 10th in 2009. He missed the cut for weekend play last year and in 2008, and tied for 28th place in his debut in 2003.
Mahan missed the cut in three of four majors last year.
“This week, my mind was the strongest part of my game, and that’s a great thing to feel,” Mahan said. “When you play a major, you’re going to need all facets of your game, especially your mind.”
Tiger Woods, who ended a 2 1/2-year wait for a 72nd win on the tour at the Arnold Palmer Invitational March 25, is listed as the Masters favorite at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino’s sportsbook, with 4-1 odds. A week earlier, he was the 7-1 second-choice behind U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
In his 240th tour start, Mahan earned $1.08 million with a final round 1-under-par 71 at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas. He finished at 16-under par and tapped in for par on the final hole yesterday to beat Carl Pettersson by one stroke.
Having also won the World Match Play Championship in February, Mahan is the first multiple winner on the PGA Tour this season.
Pettersson, who shot a 1-under-par 71, missed the chance to tie Jesper Parnevik for the most titles on the tour for a Swede, with five.
“I’m a little disappointed,” said Pettersson, who needed a win to qualify for the Masters. “Overall my game was good. Hopefully I can build on this and probably get a win soon.”
Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa, the 2010 British Open champion, was third, a shot behind Pettersson.
Mickelson, who also won the Masters in 2004 and 2010, was fourth at 12-under alongside fellow Americans Jeff Overton and Keegan Bradley, the PGA champion, and Brian Davis from England.
Ernie Els failed to secure a place at the Masters after finishing in a tie for 12th place at 10-under. Els had to win to take his run of consecutive appearances at Augusta to 19 and said he’d reject an invitation if Masters organizers extend one.
“To go through all of this and then get an invite, I wouldn’t take it,” he said. “They can keep it.”
Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion who was playing in his 600th PGA Tour event, had two double bogeys in a round of 74, leaving him in a tie for 47th place at 3-under.
The Masters begins April 5.
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