MESA, Ariz. — If Michael Phelps had a number in mind for his first time back in the pool — the first step in his comeback — he was keeping it to himself.

After finishing as the fastest qualifier in the 100-meter butterfly at a Grand Prix meet in Arizona on Thursday, Phelps would say only that it felt good to swim competitively again.

"I wanted to get out there," he said. "I wanted to get this first race done."

The 22-time Olympic medalist and his coach, Bob Bowman, took a few moments to review videotape of the preliminary heat before meeting with reporters. They liked what they saw.

"I actually felt pretty controlled," Phelps said.

Bowman added: "I honestly thought his stroke was good."

Now comes a Thursday evening final in which Phelps will renew his long-standing rivalry with Ryan Lochte, who recorded the second-fastest qualifying time of the day.

"It sets up for hopefully a decent race," Phelps said.

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