Phil Mickelson glad to be back for Colonial

Phil Mickelson is finally back at the Colonial, two years after

winning there and now with a chance to express appreciation to a

pink-swathed community that embraced his family from afar a year

ago.

Mickelson wasn’t at “Hogan’s Alley” to defend his title last

May after finding out that his wife had breast cancer, yet the

couple were in everyone’s thoughts. The tournament held a “Pink

Out” during the third round to honor Amy Mickelson and raise

awareness of the disease.

“They were without their defending champion, and yet they went

out of their way to show one of the nicest gestures I’ve seen,”

Mickelson said Wednesday. “So there is certainly an emotional

loyalty on my part toward Colonial.”

When Mickelson won the Masters last month, his wife was behind

the 18th green with their three children to share in the victory.

That is the only time Amy Mickelson has been at a golf course since

her diagnosis last year.

Amy Mickelson will not be at Colonial this week, when most

players and tournament officials are expected to wear pink for

another “Pink Out” on Saturday.

“Last week, Amy and I commiserated over our one-year

anniversary and this event really helped us get through some tough

times,” Mickelson said. “It meant a lot to us and gave us a huge

emotional boost at a very difficult time for us. We will always

remember that and be appreciative of that.”

Amid the emotional aspects of returning to Colonial, Mickelson

also has a chance this week to overtake Tiger Woods as the No. 1

player in the world rankings. Mickelson will take over top spot for

the first time in his career if he wins his third championship

plaid jacket at the Colonial.

“It would be something very special. But to accomplish that, I

can’t focus on that,” he said. “I still need to go out and play

like the No. 1 player in the world.”

Then asked if he was surprised that he has never topped the

world ranking, Mickelson responded, “I would say 13 of those years

were in Tiger years. It hasn’t been the easiest.”

Aside from his appreciation for the support the people at

Colonial showed, Mickelson – whose cap and wristband featured pink

ribbons – wasn’t interested in talking about what he was going

through at this time last year.

“I don’t really want to go back there. … That was a tough

time,” he said. “I’m happy that we are a year down the road and

that long-term things are good, and that I am able to come back and

enjoy this event.”

Mickelson is playing for the first time since tying for 17th at

The Players Championship three weeks ago. He was the runner-up at

Quail Hollow in his only other tournament since the Masters.

While Mickelson’s return is getting most of the attention, the

defending champ is Steve Stricker, who is preparing to play his

first tournament in six weeks. He has been out since after the

Masters because of a chest injury that required rest and

therapy.

“There is still some tightness or stiffness to it, a twinge

here and there. But it was going to be a hard decision to stay home

this week and give it another week of rest,” Stricker said. “I

don’t know if it’s totally healed yet, but I’m swinging without any

pain.”

Stricker won here last year with a birdie on the second playoff

hole after tying Tim Clark and Steve Marino at 17-under through 72

holes. Clark blew a two-stroke lead over the final five holes

before the playoff.

But Clark no longer holds the distinction of being one of the

best players to have never won on the PGA Tour. The South African

is playing for the first time since winning this year’s Players

Championship – after more than eight years and 204 tournaments on

golf’s toughest circuit.

Jason Day became a first-time PGA Tour winner last week at the

Byron Nelson Championship. The Australian, who now calls Fort Worth

home and plays out of Colonial, has a chance to become the only

player other than Ben Hogan in 1946 to win both Dallas-Fort Worth

tournaments the same year.

But the field will be much tougher this week. With Mickelson,

Stricker, Jim Furyk, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, the Colonial

boasts five of the top eight players in the world. The

highest-ranked player at the Nelson was Hunter Mahan, who was

17th.

Mickelson won the 2008 Colonial by one stroke after a miracle

birdie on the final hole, making a 9-foot putt after his 140-yard

wedge shot from heavy rough went under one tree and over another,

the ball clipping branches while headed sky-high. He had to jog

through the trees just to see the ball fall on the green.

“He is almost the defending champion as well this week. I

thought it was the greatest feel-good story in golf when he won at

the Masters, and seeing Amy there,” Stricker said. “I think he is

going to be tough to beat here, too. I think he will be coming back

here with his game in shape and winning here a couple of years ago,

obviously he’s got some good vibes, too.”

The Colonial is sponsored by Crowne Plaza.