Phil Mickelson has regained his form just in time to try and defend his Masters title, outduelling fellow American Scott Verplank down the stretch on Sunday to capture the Houston Open.
The 40-year-old Mickelson fired a seven-under 65 to win by three strokes and post his first title since winning the Masters last year.
“I am very pleased I played well,” said Mickelson, who finished at 20-under 268. “It feels really good for me to have played well and gained some momentum heading into next week. I needed to have a week where I kind of put it together.”
It was also his first win since announcing at last year’s PGA Championship that he suffers from psoriatic arthritis, which he controls with medication.
Verplank carded a 68 for 271, where he was joined by second-round leader Chris Kirk, who shot a fourth-round 67 at the US$5.9 million tournament.
Mickelson, who earned his 39th career title, is hoping history will repeat itself as he is the last player to win the week before achieving a Masters’ title.
In 2006, Mickelson won the BellSouth Classic and then went on to take the green jacket.
The following year a schedule shift saw the Houston Open become the last Masters tune-up event.
Asked if Sunday’s win made him the favorite for next week’s Masters, Mickelson said, “I don’t think that is for me to say. I am just trying to get my game ready. Next week at Augusta, that golf course can be very penalizing.”
The victory also vaults Mickelson into third spot on the world ranking list, putting him four spots ahead of Tiger Woods, who fell to No. 7.
It marks the first time Mickelson has been in front of Woods in the rankings since the week before Woods won the Masters in 1997.
Mickelson opened his final round with a birdie on the par-four first hole, but really got things going with five consecutive birdies beginning on the par-three ninth.
The turning point for Mickelson came on the par-three 16th where he placed his tee shot within five feet of the flag.
Verplank dropped to three back on 16 after two putting for bogey. His tee shot found the greenside bunker.
Mickelson solidified his reputation as one of the best closers on the tour. He has now won 21 of the last 30 events where he has either held or shared the lead heading into the final round.
Verplank, 46, was seeking to become the oldest winner on the PGA Tour since October, when 47-year-old Rocco Mediate captured the Frys Open.
At one point early in Sunday’s round, Verplank had a two-stroke lead. However, it soon disappeared as Mickelson stepped up his game.
HASSAN II TROPHY
AFP, AGADIR, MOROCCO
England’s David Horsey won the Hassan II Trophy on Sunday, beating Rhys Davies and Jaco Van Zyl in a nail-biting three-man playoff that went to two holes.
All three players parred the first extra hole, but Horsey held his nerve to nail a birdie at the second to seal a second European Tour title.
With one hole to play, Horsey was one ahead of Welsh defending champion Davies and two clear of Van Zyl, but took five from the middle of the fairway and six in total.
His double bogey left Davies a four footer for the win, but inexplicably one of the tour’s finest putters ran it two feet past.
Having gone into the bunker when they replayed the 18th, Horsey had to make a fine eight foot clutch putt to stay in it after Davies missed a third putt to win — this time from 20 feet.
Horsey pushed his approach right again on his third trip down the last, but rather than find the bunker, he caught the bank on the edge of the green and rolled to three feet — and this time he made no mistake.
South African Van Zyl went into the playoff after carding a last-round four-under 68.
Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn earlier signed for a course-record 62 to finish six under for the week.
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