After waiting until almost the last possible moment, Phil Mickelson announced Wednesday that he will be participating in the Shell Houston Open beginning Thursday at the Golf Club of Houston. There had been talk that Mickelson would skip this week’s PGA Tour event after having to withdraw from the Texas Valero Open last week with a pulled oblique muscle. The speculation heated up even more when Mickelson was absent from the Pro-Am portion of the tournament on Wednesday, but Mickelson said via his website that “months ago” the tournament had asked him to do a sponsor dinner on Thursday night instead of the Pro-Am event on Wednesday.
Mickelson went on to say that he feels that to give himself “the best chance at the Masters,” he had to play in Houston. He said he played nine holes at Augusta on Wednesday and he “felt pretty good” adding that was able to swing without any problem, and that his injured muscle felt “sore, as opposed to hurting.” Phil also said that if he thought he was going to re-injure himself, he certainly would not be playing. Mickelson will be teeing off at 7:50 a.m. local time Thursday morning with Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson.
This will be Mickelson’s sixth straight appearance at the Shell Houston Open, a tournament that has embraced it position as the final tune-up before the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. The course at the Golf Club of Houston is intentionally groomed to replicate conditions at the Masters with lightning-fast greens, tight roughs and shaved areas surrounding the greens. For that reason, the event has attracted an all-star field of golfers, including winners of 34 major championships.
Besides Mickelson, other big name golfers playing in the Shell Houston Open include Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and defending champion D.A. Points. McIlroy has been idle for the past three weeks, and likes that the golf course is set up to mimic the conditions at Augusta. McIlroy has a win in the Australian Open in December but has not had a first-place on the PGA tour yet this season. His best is a runner-up finish at the Honda Classic. He said that he is using the Shell Houston Open, like many of the players, to get himself used to being in contention and hitting shots under pressure. Saying he thinks it is “important to finish well,” McIlroy stresses that even though the Masters is not until next week, this tournament will get his full concentration.
With the golf world focused on recent injuries to Mickelson and Tiger Woods, the news that Hunter Mahan is back from a back injury has hardly registered a blip on the sports radar screen. Mahan had to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational during the final round on March 23, and has been in rehab since then. According to Mahan, it was a problem that had been bothering him for a few weeks, but the pain reached a peak at Bay Hill. Before the Orlando tournament he had picked up three top-10 finishes in four events. Mahan is back in the field for this week’s Shell Houston Open, teeing off at 12:40 local time with Bill Haas and Charles Howell III.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky