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Mickelson returns to action after month off

Phil Mickelson took a month off for the birth of his third child, and his return to the PGA Tour for the BellSouth Classic comes only a week before the Masters.

Not great timing for a player looking to win his first major.

"I am anxious to get out here and play, but my game certainly is rusty. I am not going to deny that," Mickelson said Wednesday. "I am not trying to light it up the first couple of days, but then hopefully I will progress on the weekend."

He and his wife, Amy, had their first son, Evan Samuel, on March 23, and Mickelson skipped The Players Championship last weekend.

So Mickelson is back on tour for a final tuneup before heading across Georgia to Augusta National for the first major of the year, even though the decision to play wasn't as easy as it might seem.

"As much as I was excited to come out and play again, it was very hard for me to leave my family," Mickelson said. "Our family is in a state of transition with the newborn ... and it was hard for me to leave."

His return comes at the TPC at Sugarloaf, a course where he's had plenty of success. Mickelson won here in 2000, and he's been in the top seven each of the past four years. The only time he's missed the cut in this tournament was in 1995, when it was played on a different course.

"I love this golf course, and I love what they have done to it this year, because the greens are the best I have seen them," Mickelson said. "They are so fast and they should be very firm. They are identical to what we'll see next week."

While Mickelson is a bit unsure about his game, Fred Couples appears to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance. He's finished in the top 10 in two straight events, including The Players Championship.

But he's not overly optimistic about his chances this week. Couples has missed the cut both times he's played in this tournament on this course, including last year, when he shot 78 in the second round.

"It's not one of the better courses I feel comfortable on, but I haven't played very much," Couples said. "So my goal is just to come here and keep playing and swinging, trying to get better and better and then go to Augusta.

"I normally don't look too far in advance, but if I go home, I don't feel like I will play any golf at all."

Back problems forced Couples to withdraw from the Bay Hill Invitational two weeks ago, so he didn't get to practice much before The Players Championship. But he opened with a 67 and stayed in contention all week until a final-round 74 dropped him to 10th.

Still, the solid play has him cautiously optimistic about winning at Augusta for the second time, even though he's trying not to think about it.

"I would love to keep playing well," said Couples, the 1992 Masters champion. "So I am trying not to look forward to Augusta because I feel like I am playing much better.

"My goal is to be playing like I am now when I get there."

 

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