Lefty ties course-record 63, takes lead in Houston

Posted: 03/04/2011 in PGA

Mickelson, Verplank tied at Houston Open lead

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Phil Mickelson fired a nine-under 63 Saturday to match the course record and grab a share of the lead after three rounds of the Houston Open.

Mickelson completed 54 holes at 13-under-par 203 and was joined in the lead by Scott Verplank, who carded a five-under 67 on Saturday.

The 63 by Mickelson matched the course record that Adam Scott and Johnson Wagner set in 2008 on the Tournament Course at Redstone Golf Club, and Jimmy Walker tied in the first round on Thursday.

Mickelson, who will defend his title at the Masters next week, is the last player to win the week before the Masters, then pick up the green jacket at Augusta the following week. Mickelson won those back-to-back titles in 2006, when he earned his second Masters title.

Verplank is searching for his first victory since the 2007 Byron Nelson Championship.

Aaron Baddeley and Chris Kirk are one stroke off the lead at minus-12. Baddeley posted a six-under 66 Saturday, while Kirk, the second-round leader, shot a three-under 69 in round three.

Mickelson and Verplank broke through the logjam Saturday that saw six different players earn a share of the lead at one point or another.

It was Mickelson’s bogey-free round that was the story of the day though. After a birdie on the first, he dropped in back-to-back birdie efforts from the third to move to seven-under. He was still three shots behind Kirk at that point.

Mickelson chipped in for par on the par-four sixth and that spurred another run of birdies. After a birdie on the par-five eighth, he made it two in a row when his 22-foot birdie try on the ninth found the bottom of the cup.

“When that chip went in, that really propelled me to play the last 12 holes good,” Mickelson said of his chip on the sixth. “That was probably the shot of the day.”

The 40-year-old dropped his approach shot within eight feet at the 10th and converted that birdie putt to grab a piece of the lead at 10-under.

Mickelson two-putted for birdie on the par-five 13th to join Padraig Harrington atop the leaderboard. Mickelson rolled in a five-foot birdie chance on the 15th to regain the lead by himself.

He was the first to get in the clubhouse at minus-13 thanks to a three-foot birdie putt at the 18th.

“I got off to a great start and was able to maintain the momentum through the round,” Mickelson said in a television interview. “The one thing I’ve really been struggling with is holding my attention on the shot and keeping the picture of the shot and I was able to do that pretty well today.”

Verplank had birdies on the third and fourth. After a birdie on the eighth, he tripped to a bogey on No. 9. Verplank’s round took a turn for the better at the 10th.

The two-time U.S. Ryder Cupper missed the only fairway of his round on No. 10, but he holed his approach shot to move within one of the lead.

Verplank sank a five-footer for birdie on 11 to briefly join Mickelson at 11- under. After Mickelson birdied the 15th, Verplank again tied him atop the leaderboard with a four-foot birdie putt on the 13th.

After four straight pars, Verplank rolled in a five-foot birdie try at the last to grab a share of the third-round lead.

“I played really solid. I did the same yesterday. I think I missed one fairway and one green today, and on a relatively long golf course, that’s pretty good for me,” stated Verplank, who has been battling a wrist injury the last few months.

“The few times I’ve gotten to play in the last four, five months, I’ve actually played well, but the problem is I haven’t been able to go home and practice.”

Defending champion Anthony Kim managed a three-under 69 and finished three rounds tied for fifth with David Hearn at 11-under-par 205. The Canadian fired a six-under 66 on Saturday.

Harrington, a three-time major champion, bogeyed the final three holes to shoot 70 and end in a share of eighth at minus-nine.

– Steve

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