Golf: In-form Mickelson not surprised Woods will play Masters

(REUTERS, AFP) - Phil Mickelson is not surprised Tiger Woods has decided to play in next week's Masters and expects golf's former world No. 1 to have fixed the issues with his short game.

Woods ended weeks of speculation on Friday when he announced he would contest the first Major of the year, a tournament he has won four times.

Woods, whose ranking has plummeted to 104th, has battled back problems and struggled badly for form this season, playing just twice on the PGA Tour.

"That's a tough tournament to miss," three-time Masters champion Mickelson told reporters at the Houston Open on Friday, where he had seven birdies but settled for a share of second place behind Andrew Putnam after two rounds of the Houston Open.

"The Masters is the tournament we dream of as a kid. I just don't think anyone would miss it if they were physically able to play."

Mickelson added that he expected Woods to have a precise short game at Augusta National when the first round begins on April 9. "He's had such a good short game, such a great game throughout his career. I think it's going to be an easy fix. I think his game is going to be sharp."

Former PGA Tour player and analyst Curt Byrum said Augusta would be a proving ground for Woods' short game. "We're going to find out really quickly if he's solved his pitching and chipping problems because there's not a tougher place on the planet to chip and pitch the ball than Augusta National," he said.

At the Texas warm-up for the Masters, Putnam nabbed six of his seven birdies in his last seven holes, his seven-under 65 vaulting him to the top of the leader board on 12-under-par 132.

Mickelson's seven birdies were balanced by two bogeys in a 67 that left him tied for second on 133. He was joined on 11 under by unheralded American Austin Cook, who birdied his last four holes in a 65.

It was a further stroke back to Canada's Graham DeLaet, who carded a 67, and American Luke Guthrie, who signed for a 68 for 134.