Mickelson in the hunt in Houston

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As he’s done many times before, Phil Mickelson appears to have found some form with a major looming.

The five-time major champion shot a five-under-par 67 on Friday which, combined with an opening 66, leaves him just one shot off the lead at the Shell Houston Open heading into the weekend.

The lead is held by Andrew Putnam, whose second-round 65 moved him to 12 under par, but the story of the day was definitely the rise of Mickelson, particularly with less than a week to go before the start of the Masters.

The left-hander has been quiet all year – pretty quiet since contending at the PGA Championship in August, in fact – but he has a habit of lifting himself when one of golf’s big prizes looms.

“I know that for me to have a good chance next week, I’ve got to play well this week. I’ve got to get into contention,” said the 44-year-old. “I’ve done that so far. I’ve got to continue to stay focused, hit shots and be sharp throughout the weekend.

“If I’m able to do that, that will give me momentum heading into next week.”

Mickelson said he spent hours per day before the Valero Texas Open working on his putting.

His chipping and pitching have been sub-par of late, but he addressed that area of his game at home earlier this week.

“My short game has been sharp this week,” he said. He believes contending this week is mandatory for his Masters chances.

“You have to be in contention in tournaments and playing well heading into (the Masters). Although it’s happened in the past where guys have out of nowhere played great that week and had a magical week and won, the odds aren’t in your favor.

“The pressure that you feel trying to win the Masters is greater than just about anything we have.”

Rookie Putnam, meanwhile, was a 36-hole co-leader at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open earlier this season. He didn’t contend much over the weekend, however, so will be hoping to change that this time around.

Mickelson shares second place with another little known player, Austin Cook, while Canada’s Graham Delaet and another American, Luke Guthrie, are tied for fourth a further shot back.

The six-man group on nine under, three off the lead, certainly can’t be discounted either, particularly as the in-form Jordan Spieth is among their ranks, as well as Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and Hunter Mahan.

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