Phil Mickelson Musters Masters Momentum with Win at Shell Houston Open

David Kindervater@TheDGKCorrespondent IApril 3, 2011

HUMBLE, TX - APRIL 03:  Phil Mickelson hits his drive on the fourth hole during the final round of the Shell Houston Open at Redstone Golf Club on April 3, 2011 in Humble, Texas.  (Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen/Getty Images

It must be that time of year.

Fifty-one weeks after winning the 2010 Masters, Phil Mickelson came out on top in a golf tournament, an impressive 20-under-par, three-shot victory over Chris Kirk and Scott Verplank en route to capturing the 2011 Shell Houston Open.

Looking to reclaim the form that enabled him to his don his third green jacket last year, Mickelson shrugged off matching opening round 70s on Thursday and Friday and ignited the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course with closing rounds of 63 on Saturday (tying a course record) and today's seven-under-par 65.

The strength of Mickelson's 39th career PGA Tour victory was a string of five consecutive birdies from holes nine through 13. And he all but iced the win with another birdie on 16 as his playing partner, the 46-year-old Verplank, finally began to fade from contention on the back nine after a gutsy start.

Although this is Mickelson's first win in almost a year, it's not for lack of effort. Remember, his bout with psoriatic arthritis plagued part of his 2010 season.

And it's not because his game has been off as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

"I've been playing well but I haven't been getting the scores out of it," he said in his post-victory presser. "I've been having a lapse in focus and it was even evident today on a couple shots...a lack of concentration. I've got to continue to work on that—although, all-in-all, this is one of the best weeks I've had in a long time as far as (visualizing) the shot and being able to hit it."

The Shell Houston Open has been dubbed a Masters prep tournament with its similar playing conditions and shot making requirements. And Mickelson used it to his advantage, gaining some much needed momentum heading into the year's first major.

"It's nothing but a plus to gain some momentum, especially given that I haven't had the results and the scores that I've wanted early in the year," he said confidently. "This is one of the best manicured golf courses we've played all year. And with the first cut similar to Augusta, it gives us a chance to work on shots just off the fairway. I love it because I think the recovery shot is the most exciting shot in golf and this golf course allows you those opportunities."

If history is to repeat itself, Mickelson will hope for a repeat performance from 2006 when he went back to back in winning the BellSouth Classic and Masters Tournament.

Amazingly, Mickelson's three-shot margin of victory today was the largest on the PGA Tour this year. And his final round 65 was the lowest score by a winner so far in 2011. Mickelson jumped to the No. 2 spot in the FedExCup standings (trailing only Mark Wilson). And for what it's worth, he moved past Tiger Woods in the world rankings for the first time since 1997. Mickelson is currently No. 3 while Woods is No. 7.