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Mickelson Prepares for Masters Defense With Houston Open Win

Phil Mickelson prepared for the defense of his Masters Tournament title with victory at golf’s Houston Open.

Mickelson also won the week before his 2006 Masters win, at the BellSouth Classic. That year, he carried two drivers at Augusta National Golf Club -- one weighted to move the ball with a left-to-right flight, and the other designed for a right-to-left flight. He said he may do the same this year.

“With the way the weather is turning out at Augusta I probably will” carry two drivers, Mickelson told reporters.

Three-time Masters champion Mickelson, 40, shot a final round 7-under-par 65 at Redstone Golf Club in Humble, Texas, to finish with a tournament-record score of 20-under-par 268. Scott Verplank and Chris Kirk tied for second place, three shots further back.

Mickelson’s 39th win on the U.S. PGA Tour is his first since last year’s Masters, his only title in 2010. Today’s win, which ties him for the 10th most all-time on the tour, is worth $1.04 million and will lift him ahead of Tiger Woods in the world rankings for the first time since 1997. Mickelson will climb three places to No. 3 tomorrow, with Woods dropping two spots to seventh, the PGA Tour said on its website.

Mickelson goes into the Masters, the first of four annual major championships, as the favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Race and Sports Book and William Hill Plc, the biggest U.K. bookmaker with about 2,350 shops.

Masters Odds

He’s 15-2 with both bookmakers, while four-time Masters champion Woods is 9-1 at William Hill and 8-1 at the Hilton. It’s the first time Woods hasn’t been the favorite to win at Augusta since 1999.

Mickelson had two birdies and as many bogeys in the first four holes today before picking up a shot at the seventh to move 1-under par on the day.

He then birdied five straight holes from the ninth to get to 19-under par and tie Verplank for the lead. The 46-year-old Verplank began the day in the lead with Mickelson at 13-under and had six birdies through 13 holes.

Mickelson took a one-shot lead when Verplank made his first bogey in 23 holes, at No. 14.

Mickelson missed a chance to extend the lead at No. 15 -- a par 5 that he reached in two -- after taking three putts for par. He made amends at the par-3 16th hole with a birdie from about four feet, while Verplank had a bogey from a greenside bunker to drop to 17-under alongside Kirk.

After a par at No. 17, Mickelson finished with a par from behind the 18th green to seal the win.

Mickelson yesterday tied the course record with a 9-under-par 63, his lowest score in two years.

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