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."