Mahan sees Tiger intimidation returning

Hunter Mahan doesn’t believe Tiger Woods has to win a major to

validate his return to No. 1 in the world.

Woods fell to as low as No. 58 toward the end of 2011. But after

winning at Bay Hill for his sixth PGA Tour title in the last 53

weeks, Woods returned to the top of the ranking for the first time

since October 2010. Woods hasn’t won a major, however, since the

2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

”I think he’s the man once again, and he proved that last

week,” Mahan said Wednesday at the Houston Open. ”Everyone is

waiting for the first major. I don’t know why they’re waiting for

that. I think he’s done enough this year to realize that he’s still

really good, and he’s better than everybody else. He set the bar so

high. I don’t know what is going to make everyone go, `He’s back to

that time.’ I don’t know if he has to win by 10 shots or

whatever.”

Mahan doesn’t buy into the notion of Woods or anyone else being

able to intimidate players, though he’s willing to make one

exception.

”He’s the closest thing to it,” Mahan said.

Mahan then recalled a scene he witnessed at the 2006 British

Open at Hoylake, which Woods won by two shots despite hitting only

one driver all week. It was the third round at Royal Liverpool.

Mahan, who went into the weekend 11 shots out of the lead, played

early and shot 68 when he saw Woods going to the range for his

afternoon start.

”He came out and walked on the range, and it was the most

intimidating thing I’ve ever seen,” Mahan said. ”He just walked

out of the car, and we were hitting balls and everyone on the range

… everybody stopped and watched him. He just had this look like,

”This is what I need to do.’ You can tell he was just in this

zone. That was intimidating.

”He was just in a different place then,” Mahan said. ”He had

this focus and it was like, `I’m going to destroy everyone out

here. I’m going to hit this shot and I’m going to hit this shot and

execute.’ It was incredible to see that kind of focus.”

NEW TOWN, OLD FACE: Mark O’Meara moved to Houston with his new

wife four years ago and has become involved through friends with

The First Tee in Houston, one of the most successful chapters in

the country.

That’s what led him to ask for a sponsor’s exemption to the

Houston Open, which he is playing for the first time in nearly 10

years.

”To come out and play with the young kids is always fun,”

O’Meara said. ”To see some new players on tour, see some of the

older guys I played with a long time ago … hopefully, I can get

out there and play well. I understand that I’m not a young guy

anymore, but I still think at 56 … when I played in Dubai, I

played well, made the cut. I beat about 12 or 13 other guys.”

One of the guys he played with was Oliver Fisher, and it was a

sharp reminder of how long O’Meara has been around. He realized he

first joined the PGA Tour before Fisher was even born.

”Reality starts to set in,” O’Meara said. ”As time goes on, I

realize how fortunate I’ve been to play an amazing game. I’m really

excited about the opportunity to come and play at the Shell Houston

Open. Like I said, I plan on trying to play well. No matter what

happens, I’ll give it my best out there.”

It has been 15 years since O’Meara set a record at age 41 as the

oldest player to win two majors (Masters, British Open) in the same

season.

RETURNING THE FAVOR: Steve Stricker has built his limited

schedule this year around the majors, the World Golf Championships

and the tournaments where he is a past champion.

The Houston Open is one of the exceptions.

Stricker didn’t have his full PGA Tour card in 2006 when

tournament director Steve Timms gave him a sponsor’s exemption to

the Houston Open. Stricker tied for fourth and was on his way. He

not only regained his card, he was the 36-hole leader at the U.S.

Open and was given serious consideration as a captain’s pick for

the Ryder Cup.

Since then, he has won nine times on the PGA Tour, been part of

every Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team and reached as high as No. 2

in the world. And he made history as the only player to win PGA

Tour comeback player of the year in consecutive seasons.

”I enjoy coming here,” Stricker said. ”It brings back a lot

of good memories. He (Timms) gave me a spot in `06 when I needed a

spot. Played well, and went on to play well that year and ever

since, really. I owe a lot to him, and we’ve become a little closer

over the years. And he’s a good guy and they run a good tournament

here, and I’ve always enjoyed coming here. As long as I’m eligible

to come here, I probably will.”

SPIETH’S NEXT STEP: Now that he has special temporary membership

on the PGA Tour, this is no time for 19-year-old Jordan Spieth to

stop now.

Spieth earned his temporary membership by tying for second in

the Puerto Rico Open and tying for seventh in the Tampa Bay

Championship a week later. That means the teenager can get

unlimited sponsor exemptions this year. He earned a spot in the

Houston Open, and already has the Texas Open, Hilton Head, New

Orleans and the Byron Nelson Championship on his schedule.

”I never would have thought that I’d be building a PGA Tour

schedule this year,” Spieth said. ”I thought I would be playing

the Web.com Tour the whole year. It’s a dream come true right now.

I was a little shocked.”

Spieth now wants to make sure he finishes the equivalent of No.

125 on the FedEx Cup or the money list to earn a full card for the

2013-14 season that starts in October. He already has earned just

over $521,893 and is 44th on the money list. Compared with recent

years, Spieth might need another $150,000 or so to get his card.

Then again, the season ends in September instead of November.

There’s no blueprint for how much is needed for the top 125. He

just wants to make sure he has a card for next year.

”I have other goals that have now come up for this year, but

that’s still first and foremost, and I’m not going to relax,” he

said. ”Even if I know that I accomplished that, there’s still a

long way to go. You still want to move up in the world ranking, get

in all the top events.”