MESA, Ariz. — Michael Phelps qualified fastest in the 100-meter butterfly Thursday at his first meet in eight months.
The 18-time Olympic gold medalist touched first in 52.92 seconds at the meet in a Phoenix suburb.
Phelps has returned to competition for the first time since serving a six-month suspension for his second drunken driving arrest. It's his first meet since the Pan Pacific Championships last August.
Tim Phillips was second-fastest in 53.02, followed by Phelps' longtime rival Ryan Lochte in 53.17.
Phelps was third at the halfway mark before rallying to win his heat. The top eight advanced to the evening final at Skyline Aquatic Center.
"It was just weird racing because it's been so long," he said. "I can pick apart the race 100 different ways, but just getting in the water and racing was something I was looking forward to."
He was cheered on by his mother Debbie and fiancee Nicole Johnson.
Phelps owns the world record of 49.82 set in 2009 during the height of the high-tech suit era. Those suits were later banned and he is swimming in an Xpresso suit from his signature "MP" line that debuted this week. He is a three-time Olympic champion in the 100 fly.
He is entered in four other events this weekend.
Earlier Thursday, FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told The Associated Press it would be "no problem for us" to offer Phelps an extra place at the world championships.
Phelps was suspended by USA Swimming from the Aug. 2-9 meet in Kazan, Russia, after his arrest last September. He didn't exactly slam the door on his possible participation after learning of Marculescu's comments.
"I don't know what to expect in the future," Phelps said. "I've got to thank Cornel for the support that he's given me over the years. He's always been a great help."
However, USA Swimming spokesman Scott Leightman said nothing had changed with Phelps' ban from the world meet.
On a cool and windy day in the desert, Lochte pulled double duty, qualifying second in the 200 free behind Conor Dwyer before returning for the 100 fly. Dwyer was timed in 1:49.31 and Lochte in 1:50.04.
Olympian Tyler Clary led the 400 individual medley qualifying in 4:25.15, followed by Dwyer in 4:26.53.
Olympian Katie Ledecky qualified fastest in the 200 freestyle at 1 minute, 57.41 seconds after winning the 1,500 free on Wednesday. Katinka Hosszu of Hungary was second at 1:57.64.