FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — 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 they 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.
(This version CORRECTS 'with' to 'without' in lead quote.)