Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

The Masters: Mickelson aims to be on top of the world

Two months from his 41st birthday and in the week he hopes to win a fourth Masters title, Phil Mickelson can call himself America's top golfer for the first time.

Much was made of the fact that Mickelson's victory at the Shell Houston Open — final warm-up event for the opening major of the season — had finally ended 14 years of trailing Tiger Woods on the world rankings, but there was more to it than that.

Before Woods came Tom Lehman, before him came Corey Pavin and before him Fred Couples — Mickelson has never before been his country's number one.

Now he is and having leapt to third in the world and relegated Woods from sixth to seventh, the number one spot is within touching distance again for the left-hander at Augusta.

If he makes a successful defence on Sunday — only Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Woods have done that in Masters history — Mickelson will go top, unless Martin Kaymer is second to him.

Finishing second could be good enough, but things are so tight thanks to Woods going almost 17 months without a win that six players all have a chance to be number one this weekend.

Top two could do it for Mickelson and top four for Lee Westwood, while Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Woods himself could head the rankings if they triumphed. Or, of course, Kaymer could stay there.

Mickelson is the clear favourite for the green jacket after he burst back to form with closing rounds of 63 and 65 in Texas.

Following his first victory since pushing Westwood into second place last April he said: “It feels really good to have played well and to gain some momentum.

“It feels a lot like '06 (he won in Atlanta the week before capturing his second Masters and second major in a row) in that I needed to have a week where I put it together.

“I've been saying all year I'm playing well, but not getting the scores out of it.

“I've got to continue to work on that. Although all in all, this was one of the best weeks I've had in a long time as far as seeing the shot and being able to hit it.

“Each player has to find out what's best for them to prepare for a big event and I find that I play my best in a major championship when I compete the week before.”

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