Mickelson emerging as a Masters favorite

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AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - He is the talk of the Masters, and for good reason. No other player can top his record at Augusta National over the last decade, with three green jackets, eight finishes in the top five and a signature moment just about every year.

That guy used to be Tiger Woods.

Now it’s Phil Mickelson.

It goes beyond Mickelson being the defending champion, listed for the first time as the betting favorite from London to Las Vegas, and at No. 3 in the world being the highest-ranked American for the first time in his career.

Just listen to some of the players.

“It seems that everyone has pretty much got Mickelson in the green jacket Sunday evening and there’s not much use in turning up at this point,” U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said with a small measure of sarcasm. “He’s a great player around Augusta, and if you finish ahead of him, you’ve got a decent chance.”

PGA champion Martin Kaymer, ranked No. 1 in the world, was asked who is the more dominant player at the Masters.

“I think Phil,” he replied.

And here’s what one player had to say about Woods, a four-time Masters champion.

“I don’t think he’ll finish in the top five,” Ian Poulter said. “The shots he was hitting at Doral, they were very inconsistent. You can’t hit shots like that on this golf course and get away with it. I don’t think you want to rely on your short game that much around this place.”

Woods hasn’t been chopping it up at Augusta. He also has three wins over the last 10 years, and that doesn’t include his record 12-shot victory as a 21-year-old in 1997. He was the runner-up in consecutive years, and his tie for fourth a year ago was impressive considering it was his first competition in five months following a humiliating sex scandal.

What makes Mickelson stand out are the 18 birdies he made on the weekend at the Houston Open to win by three shots, his first victory since the Masters last year.

“I felt like that golf was in me this year, but I haven’t been getting it out,” Mickelson said. “I haven’t had the same type of mental focus throughout the round that I expect. So to be able to have that type of performance heading into here feels very good. Reminds me a lot of 2006, when I was able to put it together the week before and carry the momentum through.”

Woods doesn’t have any momentum.

He now has gone 17 months since he last won at the Australian Masters, just 12 days before his car crashed into a fire hydrant and his life unraveled. He really hasn’t been close except for the Chevron World Challenge at the end of last year when he blew a four-shot lead in the final round and lost to McDowell in the playoff.

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