Phil Mickelson gets in Masters mode at Shell Houston Open

Back in the Mick of time! Phil the Thrill gets in Masters mode at Houston Open

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UPDATED:

18:54 GMT, 30 March 2012

You can always tell when the Masters is just around the corner – Phil Mickelson comes out of hibernation.

The three-time green jacket holder was never a factor during the Florida swing, but look who has wiped the sleep from his eyes in time to enjoy the azaleas

To the delight of crowds at the Shell Houston Open, the defending champion finally got to play his first round – a brilliantly executed 65 that added up to a wonderful confidence boost for the bigger challenge ahead.

Escape: Phil Mickelson plays out of a fairway bunker on the 15th hole

Escape: Phil Mickelson plays out of a fairway bunker on the 15th hole

HOUSTON OPEN LEADERBOARD

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Winning directly before a major always appears a poisoned chalice given how few players go on to win the following week and it certainly didn't appear to do Mickelson much good last year.

But he is one of only two – the other is Sandy Lyle – who have won the week before Augusta and the Masters itself so his many supporters won't be too concerned if he were to pull off a successful defence.

Crowd pleaser: Mickelson putts on the 17th green at the Houston Open

Crowd pleaser: Mickelson putts on the 17th green at the Houston Open

'I like to stay competitive before a
major,' he argued. 'It's a personal thing but 10 days would be too big a
gap for me before the Masters. And I played really well here. I hit it
well and felt really good with the putter.'

Another who enjoyed a good morning on the greens was Englishman Greg Owen, who shot 66 and is relishing being back on tour after regaining his privileges at last year's qualifying school.

'It was hard work because this is the tour where you want to be playing your golf,' he said.

Good morning: Greg Owen of England watches his tee shot on the eighth hole

Good morning: Greg Owen of England watches his tee shot on the eighth hole

After the long suspension for a storm on day one, the players had to go straight back out to play their second rounds as the tournament played catch-up.

In the same boat were England's Brian Davis (68), Padraig Harrington (69) and Darren Clarke (72).