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Mickelson back in contention as Masters looms

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HUMBLE, Texas – Phil Mickelson knows that the best way to get into shape for the Masters is to play his way onto the leaderboard this week at the Shell Houston Open.

So far, so good.

Mickelson carded a 5-under 67 in the second round at the Golf Club of Houston, and at 11 under he heads into the weekend in a tie for second, alongside Monday qualifier Austin Cook and one shot behind rookie Andrew Putnam. A winner here in 2011, Mickelson doesn’t have the lead but is likely viewed as the player to beat with 36 holes to go.

“It’s fun for me to put myself in a position heading into the weekend to have a chance,” he said. “I think that’s an important thing for me heading into next week, to get into contention, feel that pressure and get back to playing later on the weekends.”

Mickelson is still in search of his first top-10 finish this season, but his game has been rekindled thanks to the re-emergence of his short game. Mickelson has gone back to a blade putter that he has used off-and-on for the last 10 years, and while it let him down last week at the Valero Texas Open, the putts have been rolling in with regularity this week.

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“My short game has been sharp this week,” said Mickelson, who had 27 putts in the second round. “The putter does feel a lot better, but it’s felt better for a while. It’s felt better for a few months now. I’m excited about this weekend.”

While Mickelson hopes to hoist the trophy on Sunday, his larger focus remains on next week, when he will vie for a fourth green jacket.

“You have to be in contention in tournaments and play well heading into that tournament,” he said. “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.”

Mickelson was on the course when Tiger Woods announced that he will be returning next week at Augusta National, but the decision didn’t surprise Lefty, who believes that Woods’ game will be “sharp” when he tees it up for the first time in more than two months.

“That’s a tough one to miss,” he said. “I just don’t think anybody would miss it if they were in it, if they were physically able to play. And he’s had such a good short game and such a great game throughout his career, I think it’s going to be an easy fix.”