HUMBLE, Texas (AP) ― Phil Mickelson feels pretty confident about his game heading into the Masters.
The defending champion at Augusta outdueled Scott Verplank on Sunday to win the Houston Open by three shots, his first victory since earning his third green jacket last April.
And it comes with a notable distinction.
The win moved Mickelson’s world ranking to No. 3, while Tiger Woods dropped to No. 7. It’s the first time Mickelson has been ahead of Woods in the ranking since the week before Woods won the 1997 Masters for his first major championship.
“It feels really good for me to have played well and gained some momentum heading into next week,” Mickelson said. “I needed to have a week where I kind of put it together.”
The 40-year-old Mickelson shot a 7-under 65, the lowest closing score by a winner this year, to finish at 20 under.
He was 16 under over his final 36 holes, after tying the course record with a 63 on Saturday, his lowest round in two years. He won for the fifth straight time when he’s shot 64 or better in at least one of the rounds.
“I’ve been saying all year, ‘I’m playing well, but I’m not getting the scores out of it, and I’m just kind of having a lapse of focus,”’ he said. “It was a great week in that regard, and great for getting momentum heading in next week.”
Phil Mickelson celebrates with the championship trophy. (AP-Yonhap News)
Tour rookie and second-round leader Chris Kirk (67) tied Verplank (68) at 17 under.
Lefty is hoping he can repeat some history at Augusta this week. The 39-time tour winner is the last player to win the week prior to a Masters victory, capturing the BellSouth Classic in 2006 before earning his second green jacket. The Houston Open became the run-up event to Augusta in 2007.
While many top players, including Woods and world No. 1 Martin Kaymer sat out this week, Mickelson saw no disadvantage in coming here and trying to win. Anthony Kim won last year and finished third at the Masters.
“I think it’s nothing but a plus to be able to gain some momentum,” Mickelson said. “especially given that I haven’t had the results and the scores that I wanted earlier in the year. It gives me a little bit of momentum.”
Verplank, meanwhile, needed a victory just to get to Augusta. The 46-year-old Verplank, with his sore left wrist wrapped in black tape, would’ve become the fifth-oldest champion in the last five years.