By Bill NicholsThe Dallas Morning News
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Phil Mickelson has been busy. He prepared for the Shell Houston Open with a scouting trip to Augusta National and then prepped for the Masters with an SHO victory.
He also managed to sneak in a jump over Tiger Woods in the World Ranking (for the first time since 1997) and supplied the Masters with a prohibitive favorite.
Mickelson’s shooting 63-65 over the weekend on a Redstone course set up to play like Augusta placed Lefty right in the center of attention for the first major.
At least one of golf’s Big Two is trending upward. Mickelson improved from sixth to third in the Official World Golf Ranking. Woods regressed from fifth to seventh.
Erstwhile No. 1 Woods has apparently succumbed to paralysis by analysis. He hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since the 2009 BMW Championship. His best 2011 finish in four starts is a tie for 10th.
At least now Woods has reason to overhaul his swing. He has dropped to No. 7 in the world.
Long gone are the days when Woods seemed invincible in the piney woods. He has gone five years without a Masters win. He has gone 17 starts without a win, period.
Instead, the odds favor Mickelson matching his rival with a fourth Masters victory. And for the first time since Woods’ first win here, Mickelson is the center of attention.
Working on shots he’ll use this week, Lefty pillaged Redstone Golf Club for 18 birdies over the final two rounds.
He is only the fifth player to have won the event before donning the green jacket. He tuned up for the 2006 Masters by winning the Bell South Classic.
“It feels a lot like ’06 in that I needed to have a week where I kind of put it together,” said Mickelson, who had posted only two top-10s in seven starts. “By that I mean, I’ve been saying all year I’m playing well but I’m not getting the scores out of it, and I’m having just kind of a lapse of focus.”
Before Mickelson went NASA in Houston, even rocket scientists had trouble spinning the golf world. Three first-time winners broke through. Mark Wilson won twice. Nick Watney was a top-10 machine.
The Tour’s top tier contained lots of new but very few big names. Parity has created dramatics in the World Ranking, too. Germany’s Martin Kaymer begins the week as No. 1. He replaced England’s Lee Westwood.
Mickelson’s victory jumbled things considerably, adding several intriguing layers to the first major.
Six of the top seven players in the world have the chance to be No. 1 on Sunday night.
“A lot of young guys are playing well right now, and they are not afraid to go out and contend in a major,” said young gun Rickie Fowler, playing his first Masters. “It’s going to be pretty wide open.”