US MASTERS defending champion Phil Mickelson has firmed as favourite to take back to back green jackets following a three shot victory at the 2011 Shell Houston Open today.
Following his superb 63 in the third round, Mickelson held his game together to card a seven-under 65 to reach 20 under at the Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas.
Australia’s Aaron Baddeley started the day just one stroke behind Mickelson and jointer leader Scott Verplank but fell away on the back nine to finish seven behind the leader on 13-under.
Despite the effort, Baddeley showed enough to suggestion his return to his “original” swing and current form will make him a real threat at Augusta this week.
The 46 year old Verplank (68) finished tied for second with fellow American Chris Kirk (67) while Baddeley (71) was T4 with Steve Stricker (69).
Robert Allenby (69) finished just one behind Baddeley tied for 6th while Greg Chalmers (71) finished at 11-under tied for 8th.
It was Mickelson’s first win since the Masters last year and for the first time in his career he has passed his long time arch nemesis Tiger Woods in the world golf rankings.
The win took Mickelson to World No.3 while Woods has slipped to 7th.
“I’m very pleased to have played well,” Mickelson said. “I’m just trying to get my game ready and it’s not just the physical ball-striking and short game and putting and so forth.”
“I’ve got to maintain my focus throughout the round. There were two points out there where I just lost focus. Next week at Augusta, that golf course can be very penalising.”