Mickelson: I expect Woods to be in there challenging

WORLD No3 Phil Mickelson expects big rival Tiger Woods to be challenging at the top of the leaderboard at this year’s Masters.

Woods returns to action at Augusta today after a self-imposed five-month exile from the game following revelations about his private life.

But despite the pair not always seeing eye-to-eye, Mickelson believes the world No1 has what it takes to bury his demons and claim a fifth Masters title. “I do not think anyone expected him to play well in 2008. He was injured yet he came back and won,” said Mickelson, the 2004 and 2006 champion.

“Nobody here will question his ability to perform at the highest level. From a player’s point of view we expect to see the same player we have always seen.”

Mickelson was paired with Woods for the final day of a major for the first time in last year’s Masters, but despite an opening nine 30 from Mickelson, neither were able to challenge eventual winner Angel Cabrera.

And even though he has endured a disappointing start to the season, losing his world No2 status to Steve Stricker, Mickelson feels his game is improving just in time for the first major of the year.

“My performance has not been what I wanted. I am not overly concerned, but I would have liked to have been in contention, for sure,” he added. “The putter has actually been coming around the last few tournaments. It feels really good.”