Jacket seen as Lefty's to lose

Momentum is on Mickelson's side

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It's all about Phil.

Phil Mickelson recently announced that one of his career goals is to win 50 PGA Tour events.  PGA
PGA
Phil Mickelson recently announced that one of his career goals is to win 50 PGA Tour events.

That would be defending champion Phil Mickelson, the hottest player on the planet and the favorite to win his fourth green jacket in this week's 75th Masters Tournament.

Mickelson is on a tear after shooting 63-65 over the weekend to win the Houston Open and move up to third in the Official World Golf Ranking. It was Mickelson's first win since the 2010 Masters, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

This week's field of 99 players -- including 58 of the top 60 in the world -- has taken note of the state of Mickelson's game.

"It seems like everybody's got Phil in a green jacket on Sunday evening, and there's not much reason to turn up at this point," U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who is ranked fifth in the world, jokingly said.

Not that McDowell, who played with Mickelson a month ago and said his game "looks great," isn't a believer in Lefty.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see him blow the field away like he did over the weekend in Houston," McDowell said. "He's a great player around Augusta. If you can finish ahead of him, you've got a great chance."

After a pair of 70s to open the Houston Open, Mickelson blitzed the field with a 16-under weekend.

"Phil is obviously playing well," said Rickie Fowler, who played a practice round with Mickelson last week at Augusta National Golf Club. "He's definitely going to get a lot of confidence off of that, especially coming into Thursday, Friday."

Fans at Augusta National were disappointed that Mickelson didn't show Monday, though he did register late Sunday and picked up the No. 1 player badge that goes to the defending champion.

When tournament headquarters closed Monday night, only three players -- Rory McIlroy, Retief Goosen and Tim Clark -- had not registered.

Mickelson's decision to stay away Monday was a good move, according to three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo.

"The most important thing for Phil, I think, is rest," Faldo said during a CBS teleconference.

History is already on Mickelson's side: The last time he won the week before the Masters, in 2006, he won his second green jacket.

Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, can relate. He won at Greensboro, N.C., the week before his Masters victory.

"Like any top pro that wins a tournament, you play until the bubble bursts," Lyle said. "There's nothing better than hitting the shots and seeing them come off. There's no pill for it; it's just a feeling."

Lyle said when that happens, "the ball is rolling your way."

Even scarier for the field: Mickelson is not even tweaking his swing anymore. He and instructor Butch Harmon have it right where they want it.

"This is the year that I think is a monumental year for me because I think it's the first time that from here on out for the rest of my career I don't envision any changes," Mickelson said earlier this year.

"My swing is my swing, my short game is my short game, and my putting is my putting," he said. "All I'm going to be working on from here on out is refinement. It's a great feeling, and I think it's going to lead to a great year. I think my tinkering is done."

Lyle, who is coming off a senior victory in China, calls Mickelson the favorite this week after the way he won Sunday in Houston.

"That's where my money would be right now," Lyle said.

Lyle said Mickelson still must contend with a talented group of players seeking to secure Europe's first Masters win since Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999.

That group is headed by world No. 1 Martin Kaymer, of Germany; No. 2 Lee Westwood, of England; No. 4 Luke Donald, of England; No. 5 McDowell, of Northern Ireland; and No. 6 Paul Casey, of England. McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, is No. 9.

Many of the top Europeans have given some credit for their success to the trail Padraig Harrington blazed when he won one major championship in 2007 and two in 2008.

"Players are familiar with my game," Harrington said. "So when they see me winning, they know what it takes, rather than have somebody who wins a major they don't know. Unless they play with them day in and day out, they can't be sure really what it takes to win a major. They could easily see what it takes to win a major because they were so familiar with me and my game.

"And also, they could compete against me, which meant they were good enough to win majors."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

SHOOTING FOR 50 PGA TOUR WINS

Phil Mickelson is so motivated this year that he recently revealed some career goals, which include finishing his career with 50 PGA Tour victories. He currently has 39, including four majors (three Masters and one PGA Championship).

Only seven players in PGA Tour history - all Masters champions - have reached 50 tour wins.

--Phil Mickelson: 39 Wins

--Billy Casper: 51 Wins

--Byron Nelson: 52 Wins

--Arnold Palmer: 62 Wins

--Ben Hogan: 64 Wins

--Tiger Woods: 71 Wins

--Jack Nicklaus: 73 Wins

--Sam Snead: 82 Wins


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