AKRON, Ohio — Back from a six-week
hiatus, Phil Mickelson feels fortunate, grateful and humbled that his
wife and his mother have made extraordinary progress in their bouts
with breast cancer.
"We feel lucky to be — for a bad
situation — in as good a situation as it can be," the world's No. 2
golfer said Wednesday on the eve of the Bridgestone Invitational.
After taking a lengthy break to stay
home with his family, an emotional Mickelson is back plying his trade.
He has not played a competitive round since a disappointing tie for
second at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black on June 21, although he has
been tuning his game for the past two weeks.
But even when he was at the hospital, Mickelson allowed his mind to drift to the golf course.
"Mental rehearsal is every bit as
important as physical rehearsal," he said. "When I had my nurse gown
on, I would mentally rehearse shots to kind of keep myself sharp, even
though I wasn't touching a club. So I think when I came back and was
finally able to swing a club, I was able to play fairly decently."
Tiger Woods and a powerful field
provide a major-championship feel to the Bridgestone, which should
provide a fitting preview of next week's PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
Firestone is long and tight with hard, fast greens — just like the
course that the pros will encounter a week later.
Woods is back after missing the event
last year while he recuperated from knee surgery. The tournament is
almost an annuity for Woods, who has won six times at Firestone Country
Club. A four-time winner and tops on the PGA Tour money list this year,
Woods is coming off a victory last week in the Buick Open's swan song.
Some of the most memorable shots of
his career have come at Firestone, including the approach that bounced
onto the roof of the clubhouse in 2006, a series of dramatic strokes
during the seven-hole, sudden-death showdown with Jim Furyk in 2001 and
his final putt in the gathering darkness — illuminated by flashbulbs —
"First time I got a chance to play
this was in '97, and I love playing it," Woods said. "Over the years, I
think it's shown up in my record here. I'm really looking forward to
getting back out there and seeing how the golf course is playing. And
then, obviously, playing against such a great field like this right
before a major certainly helps."
Should Woods win again in Akron,
only Sam Snead will have more victories in a single tournament, with
his eight wins in Greensboro, N.C.
Also making a return of sorts is
2004 winner Stewart Cink. He is playing in his first event since
beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in a playoff the British Open three
After meeting some tour obligations
immediately after his win at Turnberry, Cink and his family went to
Glacier National Park in Montana for six days.
Even there, Cink was recognized. But not everyone was necessarily thrilled he won.
"Yeah, I know that most people were
rooting for Tom Watson because of the sentimental value of the story.
That's understandable," Cink said. "Some of the comments have been
pretty funny: 'I was rooting for Tom, but when it looked like you were
going to win I was really behind you!' I get a kick out of that."
Defending champion Vijay Singh,
Masters champ Angel Cabrera and U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover are also
in the field, which includes a healthy dose of Ryder and Presidents Cup
team members, 17 major champions and other top players from around the
It was a perfect spot for Mickelson to make a comeback.
Just as he feels good about the
direction things have taken off the course, he also has positive
thoughts about his game. He tuned up a week ago at Hazeltine and is
encouraged by how he came out of the layoff.
There was one major surprise, however.
"I didn't realize how much I loved
playing the game of golf," Mickelson said, his voice rising. "It's made
me re-look at some of my longer-term expectations as far as at what age
I might cut back on my schedule. It just makes me realize how much I
really enjoy what I do … and how I don't ever want to take that for