Mickelson wins Masters tuneup in Houston
HUMBLE, Texas — Phil Mickelson outdueled Scott Verplank on Sunday to win the Houston Open, his first victory since last year's Masters.
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 rankings since the week before Woods won the 1997 Masters for his first major championship.
Mickelson shot a 65 in the final round to finish 20-under par, three ahead of Verplank (68) and second-round leader Chris Kirk (67).
Lefty is hoping he can repeat some history at Augusta this week. He's 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.
Mickelson won for the fifth straight time when he's shot 63 or better in at least one of the rounds. He tied the course record with a 63 on Saturday, his lowest round in two years.
The victory has an emotional tug for Mickelson. Dr. Tom Buchholz, a radiation oncologist at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has been treating Mickelson's wife and mother, Amy and Mary, who were both diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
Buchholz and about 30 members of his staff were in the gallery all weekend, and Mickelson gave Buchholz the flag from the 18th hole after his round.
"Houston has become a special place for Phil and Amy," Buchholz said. "They're two fantastic individuals, and it's truly been a privilege to have become part of their lives. Tremendously meaningful to me, to be part of this story."
Last year, Mickelson was out of contention on Sunday and pulled Buchholz, a former caddie, out of the crowd to carry his bag for three holes.
This time, Mickelson was all business.
He and Verplank were in the final pairing, tied at 13-under par.
With his sore left wrist tightly wrapped, the 46-year-old Verplank was trying to become the oldest winner on tour since Rocco Mediate won the Frys.com Open last October at 47. He took an early two-shot lead when Mickelson bogeyed two of his first three holes.
Mickelson got rolling late in his front nine, running off five straight birdies between the 9th and 13th holes. He put it out of reach with a birdie on the par-3 16th, dropping his tee shot within five feet. Verplank hit his tee shot on 16 into the greenside bunker, and two-putted for bogey to slip three back.
Mickelson finished with two pars to earn his 39th victory, tying Tom Watson and Cary Middlecoff for ninth on the career list. He won for the 21st time in 30 tournaments when he's led or shared the lead after three rounds.
By the time Mickelson teed off Sunday, the wind was blowing as hard as it had all weekend, but there were still low scores possible. Charles Howell III played early and finished a 5-under 67, just as Mickelson was walking to the first tee.
Mickelson ignited a roar from the huge gallery on No. 1, chipping in from behind the green for birdie. He hit errant drives on Nos. 2 and 3, then birdied the par-3 seventh to start his charge.
While Verplank and Mickelson went back and forth, other challengers fell away.
Aaron Baddeley reached 15 under, then dunked his second shot in the pond on No. 11 and dropped a shot. Defending champion Anthony Kim got to 12 under, then hit his tee shot into the water on the 11th and took bogey.
Kirk, a rookie who needed a win to qualify for Augusta, couldn't catch up after a bogey on No. 9.
Lefty tried to use his length advantage over Verplank on the 319-yard 12th, driving onto the front of the green, 66 feet away. He two-putted from there for his fourth straight birdie and his 16th in 30 holes.
Verplank three-putted the par-3 14th, leaving Mickelson alone at the top. Mickelson three-putted the par-5 15th, but then widened the gap for good on the 16th green.
Brandt Jobe hit a hole-in-one on the 174-yard seventh hole, the 10th ace on tour this year.