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Mentally, Mickelson in ‘Much Better Place’

AKRON, Ohio - In a season unlike any he's ever endured, Phil Mickelson arrived Wednesday to a warm embrace from fans at Firestone Country Club.

Returning to the golf course for the first time since tying for second in the U.S. Open in June, he looked eager and refreshed on the driving range on the eve of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

More important, he was beaming about encouraging news about his wife, Amy, and his mom, Mary, who are battling breast cancer.

"If you had asked me two months ago would I be able to play again in August, I didn't think that that would be possible, but we've had some great things happen along the way and I'm fortunate to be able to play," Mickelson said. "I think mentally right now I'm in a much better place because we're just in a better place than where we were in the U.S. Open."

The three-time major champion and winner this year at Riviera and Doral didn't pick up a club for four weeks after the U.S. Open. He has spent the last two weeks, however, getting ready for Bridgestone, which features 49 of the top 50 players in the world, led by No. 1 Tiger Woods, who has won six times at Firestone.

"I expect to play well. I expect to play like I always have," said Mickelson, who will play in next week's PGA Championship and The Barclays, the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs. "Mental rehearsal is every bit as important as physical rehearsal. When I had my nurse gown on (in the hospital), I would mentally rehearse shots to just kind of keep myself sharp, even though I wasn't touching a club.

"I'm excited to play. I didn't realize how much I loved playing the game of golf."

Woods also returned to the course Wednesday - for the first time since he won for the fourth time in 2009 in the Buick Open on Sunday.

"I've always loved coming here," he said. "Over the years, I think it's shown up in my record. And playing against such a great field right before a major championship certainly helps."

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