Sports

Hunter Mahan winning mind games, tournaments

Hunter Mahan, a Colleyville resident who is the only two-event winner on the PGA Tour this year, heads into today's opening round of the Masters Tournament as the No. 4 player in the world golf rankings.

Mahan, 29, tops the season money list ($2,937,240) and will be the top-ranked U.S. player in the field in Augusta, Ga. Mahan is coming off Sunday's victory at the Shell Houston Open, where he fired a closing 71 and defeated Carl Pettersson by one stroke.

Mahan, a former Oklahoma State golfer who shared the 2003 Ben Hogan Award with co-recipient Ricky Barnes, has cracked the top 10 in two of his five career appearances at the Masters. But he faces a daunting historical precedent heading into today's opening round at Augusta National Golf Club.

Since 1934, only five golfers have won a tour event the week before winning a major championship. Tiger Woods last turned the trick in 2007 (WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, followed by PGA Championship). Others on the list include Phil Mickelson (2006), Sandy Lyle (1988), Lee Trevino (1971) and Art Wall (1959).

Among that group, three golfers -- Mickelson, Lyle and Wall -- made the Masters the second leg of their back-to-back triumphs. Mahan, who is building a house in Dallas with plans to move later this spring, considers himself a candidate to join that list because his confidence level is at an all-time high heading into a major.

For that, he credits recent sessions with Canadian sports psychologist Jim Murphy and two victories in his past four starts at tour events.

In addition to Sunday's triumph in Houston, Mahan defeated U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy, 2 and 1, in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Feb. 26.

Mahan has made the cut in all seven of his PGA Tour starts this season, with six finishes among the top 25.

During a recent interview, Mahan said the secret to his success this season rests between the ears. He began huddling with Murphy in January and, in Mahan's mind, the results speak for themselves.

"He brought some sort of positivity to me and gets me excited to play golf and excited to be in tough situations," Mahan said. "We play so many holes, so many tournaments. It just doesn't make sense to beat yourself up after bad shots ...That's what I used to do. I'm not doing that anymore."

Asked if he'd felt more confident heading into a major, Mahan said: "Probably not. With my mind and my ball striking, everything feels good. I feel like I can play well and play well in many different ways. So that's nice."

Heading into today's opening round of the season's first major championship, below is a look at Mahan in his own words:

On being considered a Masters favorite after missing the cut in Augusta last year: "I feel very capable of playing great golf. And I feel like I've shown myself I don't have to be perfect to win ...My mind was probably the strongest part of my game [in Houston]. That's a great thing to feel. Because when you play a major, your mind has to be a strength. That's what I'm going to take [from Sunday's win]."

On the significance of having top-10 finishes at the Masters in 2010 (T-8) and 2009 (T-10): "I've been on the back nine on Sunday a couple of times, kind of felt the roars and cheers ...That's going to help, because I remember those feelings."

On reasons behind his current streak of 102 consecutive holes without a three-putt: "I have no idea. But I'm going to try to keep that up. That's good."

On the significance of switching putters at the Match Play event: "I changed the offset on the putter. I feel like I can aim a little bit better, and I fell like I'm just more consistent with that. I have an identity with my stroke now, how I want to feel. Before, I was kind of searching."

On why he's prone to extended hot streaks in his career: "You're just so in the moment, you're not worried about the score ...You just try to hit one good shot at a time and let it add up from there."

On the resurgence of Tiger Woods: "It's important for the tour to see him kind of come back and have that buzz about each week that he plays ...Nobody moves the needle [with fans] like him. Tiger doesn't have a rival. Just look at the record. His rival is Jack Nicklaus."

On chasing the No. 1 spot in the world rankings: "The difference between the No. 1 player and the 20th- and 30th-ranked player isn't that big anymore. I think it's a mindset more than it is anything else."

On whether he has the mindset to be No. 1: "For sure. I want to give myself every opportunity to be the best player that I can be. I feel that is the No. 1 player in the world. That's a great goal. That's not arrogance."

On why he has clicked with Murphy after trying other sports psychologists: "He just has a very positive energy. It's almost odd. He's unlike any guy I've talked to, just the way he looks at life."

On his expectations in Augusta: "I know my game is good. I have to go out there and trust it. But Augusta is its own animal. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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