Texas: American Phil Mickelson signalled he was ready to defend his US Masters title by snapping a year-long victory drought with a three-shot win at the Houston Open on Sunday.
Mickelson shot a sizzling seven-under-par 65 in the final round at the Redstone Golf Club to pull away from compatriots Scott Verplank and Chris Kirk over the back nine and finish with a tournament-record winning total of 20-under-par 268.
For Mickelson, who put himself into contention Saturday when he equalled the course record with a nine-under 63, the victory marked his 39th PGA Tour title.
The left-hander now heads to Augusta, the season's first major, riding the momentum of his first victory since winning at the Masters in 2010 but insists that does not necessarily make him the favourite.
"I don't know (if I am favourite), that's not for me to say," Mickelson told reporters. "I'm just trying to get my game ready and it's just not the physical ball striking, short game, putting and so forth."
Verplank, who started the day as joint-leader alongside Mickelson, had been working on a flawless round going six under through 13 to grab the lead but stumbled at the finish with bogeys at 14 and 16 to return a four-under-par 68.
Kirk closed with a five-under 67 to join Verplank in second on 17-under-par 271.
Australian Aaron Baddeley (71) and American Steve Stricker (69) finished seven shots off the pace in a tie for fourth at 13-under-par 275.
Mickelson got his day off two a rollercoaster start with two bogeys sandwiched between birdies at the first and fourth.
But the three-times Masters champion was quickly back in the groove dropping a birdie at the seventh then reeling off five straight from the ninth.
Verplank's first bogey of the day at 14 allowed Mickelson to grab a lead he would not relinquish, opening up a three-shot cushion when he birdied 16 while his playing partner absorbed another bogey.
While the victory is sure to provide Mickelson with a boost of confidence heading to Augusta National for the April 7-10 tournament, only four times has a player won the event prior to the Masters and gone on to capture the green jacket.
One of those players was Mickelson, who followed a victory in Atlanta in 2006 with a Masters title.
"I've got to maintain my focus throughout the round. There were two points out there today on eight and 15, where I three putted, that I just lost focus," said Mickelson.
"I've got to keep that for every shot because next week at Augusta that golf course can be very penalising."
First Published: Monday, April 04, 2011, 10:01