Phil Mickelson is ready for the Masters.
The defending champion at Augusta outdueled Scott Verplank on Sunday to win the Houston Open by three shots, his first victory since earning his third green jacket last April.
And it comes with a notable distinction.
The win moved Mickelson’s world ranking to No. 3, while Tiger Woods dropped to No. 7. It’s the first time Mickelson has been ahead of Woods in the ranking since the week before Woods won the 1997 Masters for his first major championship.
The 40-year-old Mickelson shot a 7-under 65, the lowest closing score by a winner this year, to finish at 20 under.
He was 16 under over his final 36 holes, after tying the course record with a 63 on Saturday, his lowest round in two years. He won for the fifth straight time when he’s shot 64 or better in at least one of the rounds.
Tour rookie and second-round leader Chris Kirk (67) tied Verplank (68) at 17 under.
Lefty is hoping he can repeat some history at Augusta this week. The 39-time tour winner is the last player to win the week prior to a Masters victory, capturing the BellSouth Classic in 2006 before earning his second green jacket. The Houston Open became the run-up event to Augusta in 2007.
While many top players, including Woods and world No. 1 Martin Kaymer sat out this week, Mickelson saw no disadvantage in coming here and trying to win. Anthony Kim won last year and finished third at the Masters.
Verplank, meanwhile, needed a victory just to get to Augusta. The 46-year-old Verplank, with his sore left wrist wrapped in black tape, would’ve become the fifth-oldest champion in the last five years.
His wrist is weakened by a degenerative bone condition, and it affected his grip Sunday. He was making only his fourth start this year.
Verplank earned $519,200 for finishing second, and moved into 14th on the career money list , passing Retief Goosen and Stuart Appleby. He plans to play in San Antonio in two weeks and at Hilton Head in three.
Mickelson ignited a roar from the huge gallery on No. 1, chipping in from behind the green for birdie. He hit errant drives on Nos. 2 and 3, then birdied the par-3 seventh to start his charge.
Verplank kept pace for a while, with birdies on Nos. 8, 10, 12 and 13.
Lefty tried to use his length advantage over Verplank on the 319-yard 12th, driving onto the front of the green, 66 feet away. He two-putted from there for his fourth straight birdie and his 16th in 30 holes.
They both birdied the par-5 13th, but Verplank three-putted on No. 14, leaving Mickelson alone at the top. Mickelson three-putted the par-5 15th, but then widened the gap for good on the 16th green.
Stacy Lewis held off defending champion Yani Tseng to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship by three strokes Sunday, earning her first LPGA Tour title in the year’s first major.
Lewis shot a 3-under 69 to finish at 13-under 275, rallying from an early two-stroke deficit while going head-to-head with the world’s top-ranked player.
She punctuated a tenacious back nine in gusty wind at Mission Hills with an improbable 20-foot par putt from the fringe on the 17th hole, prompting a celebration in the raucous gallery.
Tseng shot a 74 with four bogeys, losing focus in her quest for her fifth worldwide title already this year. Lewis bogeyed the 15th hole to allow Tseng to pull within one stroke, but Tseng bogeyed the next two holes.
Lewis’ putt on the 17th broke abruptly to the left and dropped straight home, with Lewis raising her fist in celebration. The 26-year-old from Texas with her alma mater’s Arkansas Razorbacks head cover on her driver then stood staring at the green, hands on her knees in exhaustion, while Tseng missed an 18-foot par putt that essentially clinched it.
After sinking her final 3-foot putt on the 18th, Lewis raised her arms in disbelief before hugging Tseng and her caddie, and several players quickly doused her with beer in the LPGA tradition for a first-time winner.
Lewis and her family then took the Kraft Nabisco’s traditional winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond, holding hands while running to the water, where Lewis and her caddie did modified cannonballs.
Morgan Pressel, Katie Futcher and Angela Stanford finished nine strokes behind Lewis in a third-place tie. Michelle Wie (75) and 2007 Kraft Nabisco champion Pressel (76) both faltered badly in their final rounds after starting the day within striking distance of Tseng and Lewis, with Wie falling into sixth place—still the former child prodigy’s best finish in a major since 2006.
Lewis led going into the final round of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, finishing third in her first pro tournament. She established herself as a solid pro in the 2 1/2 years since, but still hadn’t won.
Lewis shared the first-round lead with road roommate Brittany Lincicome and opened a three-stroke lead after two rounds, but Tseng blitzed past her playing partner Saturday with a bogey-free 66 when temperatures finally cooled after two days of stifling heat. Lewis struggled to a third-round 71.
A night off clearly refreshed Lewis, who came out in the final round with all the aggression and confidence she lacked as the leader Saturday. She birdied the second and third holes, and Tseng’s bogey on the fourth hole allowed Lewis to pull even.
Tseng took the lead with a birdie putt on the eighth hole, but Lewis immediately pulled back ahead with a long birdie putt on the ninth before Tseng missed a short par putt. Lewis went two strokes up with a 12-foot par putt on the 12th, punctuated by a confident fist-bump with her caddy.
Pressel birdied the fifth hole to move within two strokes of the leaders, but never got closer.
LEHMAN WINS CHAMPIONS TOUR EVENT
Tom Lehman made things look easy while taking the lead at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic. Holding on for the victory proved a little more difficult.
Lehman won his second Champions Tour title of the season Sunday, closing with a 3-under 69 at Fallen Oak.
Lehman, who won the Allianz Championship in February, started the day with a one-stroke lead over Jeff Sluman and bogeyed the first hole to briefly fall into a tie.
Lehman didn’t make many more mistakes, with five birdies despite windy conditions that made for a more difficult challenge than Saturday, when Lehman shot a course-record 64. The 1996 British Open champion’s methodically effective performance after the first hole wasn’t interrupted until a bogey on 18.
After two days of nearly ideal weather conditions on the course, Sunday brought variable wind that occasionally gusted to 25 mph. Lehman managed to stay out of trouble, hitting 13 out of 14 fairways and staying out of the deep bunkers that line most of the holes.
Once Lehman navigated the front nine without any serious trouble, he felt good about his chances to win.
Lehman finished the tournament at 16 under, winning $240,000 of the $1.6 million purse. It’s his fourth career Champions Tour victory and extends his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. He’s also first on the Champions Tour money list with $718,038.
Sluman (72), Nick Price (67) and David Frost (69) tied for second, four shots back. Hale Irwin tied for seventh, earning his 200th top-10 finish on the Champions Tour.
David Horsey of England had a birdie on the second extra hole of a three-way playoff to earn his second European Tour title Sunday, taking the Trophee Hassan II after a final round that included a hole-in-one.
Horsey was one shot ahead of defending champion Rhys Davies of Wales and Dutchman Jaco Van Zyl at the par-4 18th, but stumbled to a double bogey that left him at 13-under 274.
Davies missed a 4-footer for par that would have given him the win and Van Zyl made par on the last to join the playoff.
All three parred the first playoff hole before Horsey won it on the second.
Horsey had his hole-in-one at the par-3 second, giving him the lead after being tied with Davies overnight.
Davies missed an easy putt on the last hole that would have given him the victory.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark set a course-record 62 to finish at 6 under in 15th place.
IN OTHER NEWS
Ryo Ishikawa first made people take notice because of his golf. He won his first Japan Golf Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur, won the money title at 17 and last year became the first player to shoot 58 on a major tour.
Wanting to do his part to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated his native Japan, Ishikawa decided to donate his entire tournament earnings this year—plus a bonus for every birdie he makes—toward relief efforts.
Ishikawa, who at 19 already has nine wins on the Japan Golf Tour, was third on Japan’s money list last year with just over $1.82 million.
Shell Oil Co. has agreed to a five-year extension as the title sponsor of the Houston Open.
The oil giant has been the tournament’s title sponsor since 1992, the third-longest tenure on the PGA Tour. The event dates to 1946, and is the 10th oldest tournament on the tour.
Since Shell became the lead sponsor, the tournament has raised more than $50 million for the Houston Golf Association to contribute to regional, youth-based charities. Last year, the tournament generated about $2.1 million for charities.
“Shell Oil Company has given our event great stability and its support has enabled our organization to continue to positively impact the lives of young people every year,” HGA president and CEO Steve Timms said.
Researchers at the University of Maine designed a golf ball made from lobster shells that normally would have been sent to the local landfill. While the ball looks good, it's designed with cruise ships in mind. The ball has a biodegradable "binder and coating" that make it perfect for the sea. The balls cost about 19 cents a piece.
Have you ever heard of the English Open, , yes the English Open not The Open Championship, but the English Open, well the long-troubled event ran from 1979 to 2002, then went on hiatus until 2008. In 2009 and 2010, it was scheduled to be played at the Nicklaus-designed St. Mellion International Resort course in Cornwall but financial difficulties forced postponement to this year.
Now, that's not going to happen either. Difficulty in locating sponsors,which is not a surprise for a tournament that has not been held in nearly a decade, has forced event planners to postpone the tournament for yet another year.
It's a tough financial blow to St. Mellion, which has invested £20 million in the last two years to bring the course up to speed. But tourney organizers couldn't find a sponsor to pony up £2 million to cover the tournament, both because of the still-shaky economy and the commitment that many blue-chip companies have made to London's 2012 Olympics.
U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein won the Georgia Cup on Tuesday, building a 4-up lead at the turn and holding on to beat British Amateur champion Jin Jeong on the 16th hole.
It was the 14th year of the Georgia Cup, which matches the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur champion at The Golf Club of Georgia in the week before the Masters.
Uihlein flew back to Oklahoma States University after his 4-and-2 victory. He plans to return to Augusta National this weekend to compete in the Masters for the first time.
Jeong, a 21-year-old Korean who lives in Australia, tried to fight back from the big deficit at the turn. Uihlein, however, closed him out with a shot into 3 feet for birdie.
U.S. Amateur champions now hold an 8-6 lead in the competition.