Phil Mickelson Makes His Return At Bridgestone - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Phil Mickelson Makes His Return At Bridgestone

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- 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 - in 2000.

"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 weeks ago.

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 globe.

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 granted."

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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