MICHAEL Phelps endured a difficult return to the 200 metres butterfly on Saturday by finishing a distant seventh, more than three seconds behind the winner, at the Arena Pro Swim Series meet in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Competing in the event for the first time since the 2012 London Games, the 18-times Olympic gold medallist came home in a time of 2:00.77, more than three seconds adrift of winner Chase Kalisz.
Phelps, who took silver in the event in 2012, had said he knew he needed to be in optimum condition to compete in the gruelling race again.
The most decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps retired after London but has made a comeback and is eyeing a spot at the Rio Games next year.
He dropped out of his scheduled 100 m backstroke earlier on Saturday to focus on the butterfly but the move did not pay off.
Phelps is competing in his second meet following a six-month ban for drunk driving and has endured mixed results.
On Friday he finished third in the 100 m butterfly and failed to qualify for the 200 m freestyle.
Phelps is also expected to swim in the 200 m individual medley and 100 m freestyle.