Mickelson finds form ahead of Masters defence

Masters champion Phil Mickelson will head back to Augusta as the man to beat after sealing a superb victory today at the Shell Houston Open.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson will head back to Augusta as the man to beat after sealing a superb victory today at the Shell Houston Open.

He finished the Houston event in style with a closing 65, which included a streak of five birdies from the ninth, to finish three clear of fellow Americans Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank.

Kirk signed for a 67 to earn his first top-two finish on the PGA Tour, and Verplank finished with 68.

Victory for Mickelson ahead of the coming week's first major of the year means he overtakes Tiger Woods in the world rankings for the first time since the 1997 Masters.

He finished on 20-under-par 268, pulling clear of the field with his string of birdies as he completed the back nine in 31.

Mickelson did stumble early on in his final round, with a pair of dropped shots at the second and third holes, both par fours. Those allowed playing partner Verplank to head the leaderboard, but Mickelson soon passed him.

Steve Stricker and Aaron Baddeley tied for fourth place on 13 under, Stricker after a 69 and Baddeley with a closing 71, while Robert Allenby and David Hearn were a shot further back.

Padraig Harrington completed a solid week with a 70, for joint eighth place on 11 under.

Anthony Kim’s challenge faded, as a one-over 73 dropped him back into a tie for 13th.

Further down the field, England’s Lee Westwood had an eagle-three at the eighth but finished with a dropped shot for a 68. He needed a top-two finish to go back to number one in the world, but ended up tied for 30th.

Westwood’s compatriots Brian Davis and Ross Fisher were handily placed heading into the final round, but rounds of 75 and 76 respectively dashed their hopes of finishing in the top 10. Davis wound up joint 48th, with Fisher in a group tied for 51st which included Ernie Els.

Mickelson said on Sky Sports: ``I'm very pleased to have played well.

“I’m just trying to get my game ready and it’s not just the physical ball-striking and short game and putting and so forth.

“I’ve got to maintain my focus throughout the round. There were two points out there today where I just lost focus.

“Next week at Augusta, that golf course can be very penalising.”

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