Mickelson Back on Track

Phil Mickelson returns to competitive golf since the Ryder Cup for this week's HSBC Champions in China. The defending champion in the elite-field, $7 million tournament, Mickelson took the hiatus to spend time with family, but also to recover from psoriatic arthritis, which started affecting him in June.

At that time, the 40-year-old, who won the Masters two months before in April, woke up with intense pain in his tendons and joints. He made it through the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with stretching and anti-inflammatory drugs, but his condition gradually worsened.

When his ailment was diagnosed Mickelson began taking new medication. It took eight weeks for it to start working. That occurred around the time of the Ryder Cup, when he handily beat Europe's Peter Hanson in singles.

On the eve of the HSBC Champions, Mickelson told Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, "I've been taking one drug and I feel 100 percent. I feel terrific. I cannot believe the difference. I've been able to do all the normal activities in my life. I've been able to practice at whatever level, and I honestly don't feel any different than I did before.

"I've had good time off. I'm on a good medicine. Things feel pretty good," added Mickelson, now ranked fourth in the world behind newly crowned Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer.

To get to the No. 1 position, Mickelson needs to finish at least in fourth and the others not so high.

He understands why he wasn't able to ascend to the top. "I haven't played well since the Masters - or as well as I expected - maybe since the U.S. Open," he told Ferguson. "So I don't feel like I've earned it. I've got to play well and win more tournaments, and then I feel like those results will take care of itself."

Mickelson's best chances for becoming the top-ranked player in the world could occur with tournament wins in early 2011. "It's fun to be a part of it and have a chance," he said.

Mickelson, who calls the HSBC Champions a "field of winners," will be paired with Westwood and 2006 champion Y.E. Yang. The other marquee groups include Woods, 2010 U.S. Open champion McDowell, and former No. 1 Ernie Els, while Kaymer will join Hunter Mahan and Paul Casey.

Mickelson heads into Thursday's event as the 11-1 favorite in British betting parlors, while Woods is going off at 8-1.

Mickelson got heads scratching when he said he was becoming a vegetarian during the PGA Championship. That announcement was strange for the notorious trencherman, who is a part-owner of Five Guys, a chain of burger joints in Southern California.

In China, Mickelson said he remains a vegetarian but may be changing his dietary habits soon. "I've been doing it for just over four months and I'm just having second thoughts," he told Ferguson.

"I don't know if it really is going to make a difference or what. So we'll see. We can talk about it in January, and I'll have a better idea - see how the holidays go."

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