Phil Mickelson making some noise

HUMBLE, Texas. -- On Saturday morning, Phil Mickelson shot a 5-under 67 in the third round of the Shell Houston Open at the Redstone Golf Club.

After making the cut on the number, the 2011 winner of this tournament has put himself back into contention on a leaderboard topped mostly by players with little experience leading PGA Tour events.

"I had a good round today, the first seven, eight holes we played, there was no wind," said Mickelson, who was T-8 when he finished his day. "It was really a great opportunity to take advantage of some birdies.

"My game is starting to feel really good. I'm looking forward to [Sunday's] round because each day I feel like my game has gotten better and better. I don't know how far back I'll be or if I'll be within striking distance. I think I'll be able to make some kind of move."

When the third round ended, Mickelson was tied for 21st at 6 under, 5 shots back of 54-hole co-leaders Stewart Cink and Bill Haas.

This year marks the first time since 2007 that the 42-year-old San Diego native will not play the week before the Masters. Now with the Valero Texas Open between Houston and the Masters, the lefty will head over to Augusta for some practice instead of playing an event.

"It's not my preference to [take the week off before the Masters]," Mickelson said. "But, I'll try to do what I did where I'll try to peak a little bit early and try to back off and build into the tournament again."

Rory McIlroy, who shot a 1-under 71 on Saturday, might take notes from Mickelson on how to go about sorting out his game for the remainder of Houston and the week leading into the Masters.

"When I'm playing my best golf, it becomes kind of a reactionary sport where I'm looking at the target, I see the shot and just swing," Mickelson said Saturday. "The first couple of days, I was more in tune with fundamentals, thought process on mechanics and so forth, and today on the back nine I was able to just look and react."

McIlroy, who committed to the Valero Texas Open on Friday, said after his round on Saturday that he had been persuaded to play in San Antonio by his caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, after making the cut on the number.

"[J.P.] said if you just play a few more rounds, I think you're going to be ready," McIlroy said.

Both McIlroy and Mickelson are doing all they can to be as sharp as possible heading into a Masters where world No. 1 Tiger Woods will be an overwhelming favorite to win his fifth green jacket.

Yet each has unfinished work to do in Houston. Mickelson has an outside chance of winning, and McIlroy most likely is just looking to continue building confidence in his game with another solid round.