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Lefty's Ready for Masters Title Defense
Much like the 1,600 azaleas that line the 13th hole at Augusta National, Phil Mickelson’s game is in full bloom just in time for golf’s most prestigious gathering.
Lefty went low this weekend, shooting 63-65 to win the Shell Houston Open by three shots for his 39th career victory. As he did in 2006, when he won the week before The Masters, Mickelson arrives in Augusta riding a wave of positive momentum as he attempts to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001-02 to win back to back green jackets.
As he basked in the glow of his best weekend in almost a year, Mickelson reminded everyone that even when he’s at his best, his greatest obstacle is himself.
“It feels really good for me to have played well and to gain some momentum heading into next week,” he said. “It feels a lot like ’06 in that I needed to have a week where I kind of put it together. By that I mean, I’ve been saying all year I’m playing well but I’m not getting the scores out of it, and I’m having just kind of a lapse of focus.
“And it was even evident today on a couple shots, a basic easy chip shot on 8 that I flubbed and 3-putting 15. Those little types of lack of concentration. I’ve got to continue to work on that. Although all in all, this was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time as far as seeing the shot and being able to hit it. So, it was a great week in that regard and great for getting momentum heading in next week.”
Mickelson, who awoke this morning to find himself ahead of Tiger Woods in the World Golf Ranking for the first time in 14 years, is hesitant to pronounce himself the favorite, but he won’t rule himself out, either.
“There’s always a bunch of guys that can win that tournament,” he said. “I don’t think the last two days should change anything on how others view that particular event. It’s wide open. There’s a lot of players that can do it. But I certainly like the way that I play the golf course, and I’m very pleased with the way my game is coming around.”
The consensus among elite players seems to be that you should skip the tournament the week prior to a major. In that regard, Mickelson flies in the face of convention. But it seems to work for him.
In PGA Tour history, only four players have won the week prior to The Masters and then gone on to win the green jacket. Mickelson, who won the BellSouth in 2006 the week before winning the Masters, is one.
“Each player as an individual golfer has to find out what’s best for them to prepare for a big event,” he said. “And I find that I tend to play my best in a major championship when I compete the week before. It gets me into competitive frame of mind, and I enjoy the challenge in only having three days between competitive rounds.
“So that for me personally works. But I know that Nicklaus and a lot of guys prefer to have the week off and kind of focus in on that one particular golf course and those shots. I understand that. There’s an argument both ways. As a player, you have to find out what works best for you as the individual.”
We know it can work for Mickelson. Will it work again this week?