Phil Mickelson once again finds his golf game before the Masters

Like a thoroughbred sensing the big moment, Phil Mickelson has a way of finding another gear right before the Masters.

It honestly doesn't matter how poorly he's playing leading up to the first major of the year, all it takes is a whiff of the Azaleas or a couple practice days at August National -- Phil logged them prior to the start of the Shell Houston Open -- and boom! His game is on.

OK, so maybe it's not that easy. But like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Sam Snead, there's something about Augusta that brings out the best in Phil. And for some reason, those positive Masters vibes tend to rub off on the tournament he plays the week prior.

Case in point: Mickelson has four tour wins the week before the Masters, and one of those years (2006), he managed to go back-to-back to win his third Green Jacket.

Playing well the week before is always a positive sign, and once again, Phil is doing just that at the Shell Houston Open, posting 7-under 65 on Friday morning (he had to come back and finish his first round due) before coming back and firing a second-round 70 that has him sitting at 9-under, just three back of leader Jeff Maggert.

Prior to this week, nobody was quite sure which version of Phil Mickelson would show up at Augusta National, after he posted two pedestrian finishes during the Florida Swing that all but snuffed out the early season hype of winning at Pebble and nearly backing it up with another at Riviera.

But in typical Phil fashion, he's back on our golf radar right before his favorite tournament of the year. There's a reason why Fred Couples called Augusta National a "playground for Phil."

With three wins, four thirds, a fifth and a T-5, T-6, two T-7s and a 10th since '95, he's gotten to a point where he could literally show up and post a top-10 finish at the Masters.

Phil didn't need a big week at the Shell to go into the first major of the year as a contender, but the fact that he seems to be finding his game certainly bodes well for his chances with the Masters on the horizon.

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