Red-Hot Phil Wins Masters Primer
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson, defending champion of The Masters, was already a favorite heading into Augusta next week, but after besting Scott Verplank on Sunday to capture the Shell Houston Open by three shots, the odds of Phil as the front runner just got even better. Phil, who hasn’t won since last April, looked fantastic, tearing up Redstone and shooting 16-under over the weekend.

Naturally, he feels confident about his game going into his best-loved week of the year.

“I certainly have a lot more confidence heading in,” said Phil, “because the one area that I’ve been not doing as well as I usually do, which is seeing a shot, visualizing a shot, being able to hold that picture throughout the swing and execute, I started to do much better this weekend.”

And we can’t forget about added momentum.

“I look back in ’06,” said Phil, who won the Bell South Classic the week before taking home his second green jacket that year. “I think it’s nothing but a plus to be able to gain some momentum, especially given that I haven’t had the results and the scores that I wanted to earlier in the year.  So it gives me a little bit of momentum.”

With this year’s Masters being arguably the most wide open in recent history, does today’s result lessen the margin? Phil doesn’t think two days should change anything.

“It’s wide open,” said Phil. “There’s a lot of players that can do it. But I certainly like the way that I play the golf course, and I’m very pleased with the way my game is coming round.”

In other words, maybe just a little.

Oh, and believe it or not — Phil finally passed Tiger Woods in the rankings. The victory bumped Phil to No. 3 in the world, while Tiger fell to No. 7. This marks the first time that Phil has been ahead of Tiger in rankings since the week before Tiger won the ’97 Masters.

“(Augusta) reenergizes me every time I go there,” said Phil, who spent Monday-Wednesday practicing there. “I get excited with the game and fall in love with the game again and again.  It reminds me how much I dreamt as a kid of playing there, of competing and winning Majors and winning golf tournaments.

“Every time I walk the grounds now, having one won there, I’ve looked backed about some shots I’ve hit or some players in the past hit.  It creates an excitement level for the game of golf.”

Now, Phil’s just got to save his energy for the grand stage, and as a seasoned vet, I don’t think he’ll have a problem keeping the adrenaline in check. After all, he’s been there, done that.

I am wondering whether he “peaked” too soon, though? Does Phil’s win in Houston change your pick for The Masters? Do you think Phil will run away with the green jacket?

(AP Photo/Dave Einsel)