Mickelson has rivals on knees as he drives on to The Masters

Reigning champion installed as favourite after superb third-round display in Houston

There is a clear favourite for this week's opening major of the season and for the first time in 14 years his name is not Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson displaced his nemesis at the top of the betting lists with a victory at the Houston Open last night which had "fourth green jacket" written all over it.

The left-hander won his first trophy since last year's Masters in stunning style. His 65 yesterday to see off the veteran Scott Verplank and the rookie Chris Kirk by three strokes, made him 16-under for the weekend. The 40th title of Mickelson's career took him back into the world's top five, lifting him above Woods in the rankings for the first time since 1997.

Woods was practising here yesterday, although did so knowing he would have fallen to world No 7 by this morning (England's Paul Casey also leapfrogs him). After playing 18 holes with Jeff Overton, he left the course mid afternoon. Maybe he rushed away to watch the coverage from the Redstone Golf Club. If he did, he would have seen a short-game master class.

The 40-year-old chipped in at the first and almost did again at the 18th. It had been a similar story in his nine-under 63 on Saturday. Indeed, his chip-in from a seemingly impossible spot on the sixth had Billy Foster, the caddy of Lee Westwood, falling to his knees and bowing in mock reverence. But this was not just Miracle Mickelson as he showed consummate control with his long-game. Mickelson has admitted struggling with visualising his shots. Well on these two round he was like Mystic Mick, seeing it, then hitting it. Remarkable.

It was all too easy to be impressed and believe this will be his Masters to lose, although many will look at this, his first Houston crown, and wonder why he hasn't reached the levels in the last 12 months. Perhaps it can be explained by a revelation from his manager yesterday. It was common knowledge that Mickelson had experienced the sudden onset of psoriatic arthritis in the months after his Masters glory, although not many were in the loop about how close it came to making him quit his profession.

"It was a lot more serious that people know," so Steve Loy told the Augusta Chronicle. "It was a lot more threatening to his career and his normal health than people know. We're very blessed to have the best medical treatment available. It's better than 100 per cent better, but he was not Phil Mickelson from three weeks before the US Open until just before the Ryder Cup."

These were clearly worrying times, yet perhaps it was the good humour of his wife which helped pull him through. Said Amy: "We always expected to grow old together – just not at 38 and 40."

Amy actually received treatment for breast cancer at a Houston hospital, making this another emotional win for Mickelson, who made repeated trips to the Oil City to be with his wife. "This has been a special place for us and I've been pleased to spend time with the people who have helped us over the last few years," he said.

And so Lefty heads to Augusta, and the scene of his biggest tearjerker. When Mickelson tapped in to deny Westwood by three strokes last year, his wife Amy was at the back of the 18th. The ensuing hugs provided an even stronger bond between Mickelson and the Georgia masterpiece. In truth, this is a love affair based on his profession.

"The golf course itself, as difficult and challenging as it is, when I go out through the gates I don't feel like I have to play perfect golf," explained the golfer who has won three of the last seven Masters. "I feel like I can make mistakes and still make pars. I don't have to drive it perfect. I can go in the trees and hit shots under the trees and up by the green somewhere and with my short game salvage par. At Augusta, I feel like skill and touch and short-game are always a factor."

Certainly he will not be at all concerned about those who doubt the merits of winning immediately before a major. Mickelson has done it all before. In 2006, the Bell South Classic led seamlessly into his second green-jacket performance. And his rivals are looking for any more ominous portents, then just like in 2006, Mickelson also intends to put two drivers in his bag at Augusta.

It is fair to say the strategy raised eyebrows five years ago. They will remain beneath the visors this time. "With the way the weather is turning out at Augusta I probably will [put two drivers in his bag]," said Mickelson yesterday. The forecast is set fair and the National course is set to play firm and fast and Mickelson is convinced another driver with steeper loft can help him gain vital yards. As if he needs another advantage.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea