Mickelson roars into Houston lead

Phil Mickelson catapulted into the joint lead at the Shell Houston Open after a third-round 63 on Saturday.

Phil Mickelson catapulted into the joint lead at the Shell Houston Open after a third-round 63 on Saturday.

The low score couldn’t have come at a better time for the left-hander, as he prepares to defend his Masters title next week at Augusta.

Mickelson made nine birdies, including three in his first four holes, to match the course record at the Redstone Golf Club, after a pair of solid but unspectacular 70s on the opening two days. He had said after Friday’s second round that he would need to go low to remain in the picture, and go low he did.

The round threatened to come unstuck at the sixth after hooking his tee shot left, but he saved par by holing a 50-yard pitch shot from behind the green.

“It could’ve really been bad,” he said. “I’m just fighting not to have it be a double (bogey), and be a momentum killer. When that chip went in, it really propelled me to play the last 12 holes good.”

Mickelson also acknowledged that it was a confidence booster ahead of next week’s first major of the year.

“It doesn’t hurt,” he said.

“I knew that I was close game-wise but I hadn’t been putting together the score. To get a good round like this means a lot.

“Also to have the challenge of tomorrow, to be in contention, to be in the final group, have an opportunity to win, I really enjoy that opportunity, that challenge, and I think it’s good for me to be in that position heading into next week, too.”

Some believe that winning the week before a major is somewhat of a bad omen, but Mickelson doesn’t agree.

“People have talked about winning the week before a major as not necessarily the greatest thing, because it takes away energy, or what have you,” he said.

“I felt like in ’06, it was really a benefit to gain the momentum and confidence of winning a golf tournament right before, especially the Masters.”

Mickelson shares the lead with fellow American Scott Verplank on 13-under-par 203, who got there thank to his second consecutive 65.

A further shot behind are Australian Aaron Baddeley (66) and American Steve Kirk (69), while Canadian David Hearn and Anthony Kim are also still in the picture, after rounds of 66 and 69 respectively.

World number two Lee Westwood shot a disappointing 74, ending his chances of regaining the number one spot with a top-two finish.