Phil Mickelson set for Shell Houston Open as abdominal strain heals

Phil Mickelson
Getty Images
Phil Mickelson is playing the Shell Houston Open because it gives him the best chance at the Masters.
Kurt Voigt
Associated Press

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 | 6:11 p.m.
HUMBLE, Texas – Phil Mickelson announced on his website Wednesday that he's recovered from a muscle strain and is ready to play in this week's Shell Houston Open. 
The four-time major winner, who withdrew from last week's Valero Texas Open after pulling a muscle in his right side, said he'll play in the $6.4-million event after two days of "light practice" at Augusta National, site of next week's Masters. 
"I feel that to give myself the best chance at the Masters I have to play in Houston," Mickelson said. "If I thought I would injure myself further I would have withdrawn from the tournament, but the last few days have been good." 
The world's No. 5 player helped solidify the Houston Open's spot as a preferred Masters tune-up by committing to play in 2008 and every year since. He won it in 2011 and finished 16th last year. 
Mickelson's return to the 7,441-yard Golf Club of Houston – formerly known as Redstone Golf Club before an ownership change – highlights a stellar field that features the winners of 34 major championships. It's a field that includes Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, among others, as well as defending champion D.A. Points. 
First and foremost, they're after the winner's share of prize money – while also using the course's slick greens and tight rough to prepare for the Masters. 
And that's just fine with McIlroy, who tied for 45th at the event last year while still in the infant stages of a club change. 
"It's brilliant," McIlroy said. "They get the fairway heights the same, the rough heights the same, the runoff around the greens ... It's perfect for that." 
McIlroy finished 19th at the Houston Open in 2009 before missing the cut a year later. The former world No. 1 was winless on the PGA Tour last year, though he has been trending upward since – including a win over Adam Scott in the Australian Open in December. 
He finished second at the Honda Classic last month before tying for 25th at Doral. 
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McIlroy took the last three weeks off leading into the Houston Open – a big change from last year when he decided to play the Texas Open only days ahead of time. Even with Augusta National looming, McIlroy said he's fully focused on competing this week. 
"I think it's important to finish well," McIlroy said. "I don't think there's any better way to prepare than getting yourself into contention and playing golf under pressure, because that's ultimately what you want to do next week." 
Points sank a 13-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to win last year, winning by one stroke over Stenson and Billy Horschel. He hasn't finished higher than 28th this year, including missed cuts in each of his last two tournaments, but his confidence is high this week. 
"Knowing that I've had success here, and it's cool to be out there," Points said. "Makes you feel like, `Hey, I can do that again.'" 
Mickelson tees off Thursday with Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley. McIlroy's threesome with Dustin Johnson and Luke Donald begins in the afternoon.