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Sweden's Robert Karlsson made six birdies and three bogeys Thursday at difficult Oakland Hills. (Photo: Getty Images)

Karlsson continues torrid play in majors with stellar 68

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Sweden's Robert Karlsson, the only player with top-10 finishes in each of the year's first three majors, got off to a blazing start in the fourth Thursday, firing a 68 for a share of the clubhouse lead.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Robert Karlsson may have been a tad eccentric in his younger days.

There were days when he'd eat volcanic ash like that other off-the-planet Swedish golfer. Sometimes, though, Karlsson wouldn't dine at all -- fasting for two weeks at a time to cleanse his system. And what about the time he stayed up all night long -- putting 10-footer after 10-footer after 10-footer?

"You have to have something to write about, don't you," Karlsson said with an innocent shrug of his shoulders.

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Karlsson is much more content with himself now, though, and it shows in his golf game. The only man to have posted top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors got off to a blazing start in the fourth, firing a 68 that gave him a share of the clubhouse lead.

Karlsson's round was even more impressive considering it began with a double bogey when he went pin-seeking on the first hole -- "silly boy," he said -- only to watch the ball bounce off the back edge and onto the cart path. He birdied his next three holes, though, and never looked back, actually getting to 4 under when he made a 10-footer at No. 11 but settling for the 68.

"The greens today are way firmer. Way firmer," Karlsson said. "So (it was) a lot more difficult today. I would think that there's not going to be many scores under par. Definitely not in the afternoon. The greens are a lot quicker as well. It's a tough golf course, but it's set up perfect."

One could say the same about Karlsson. He hasn't missed a cut on the European Tour this year, ranking fourth on the Order of Merit with two runner-up finishes, a trio of third and four other top 10s. He currently holds down the last automatic qualifying spot for the European Ryder Cup team off the world points list, as well.

Karlsson, who towers above the competition at 6-foot-5, thinks the key to his success of late comes from being his own man. For several years, he's been working with a Swedish life coach named Annchristine Lundstr?m who has encouraged him to look within himself rather than try all the unusual approaches of the past.

"Instead of trying to give different techniques, you sort of come back to me all the time," Karlsson explained. "It is okay, what can you do here? What if you were only your own coach, how would you think, how would you support yourself? So I always look and sort of change it back, everything comes back to me all the time and that's the way it has become a lot better.

"Now on the first tee I'm sort of my own boss a lot more than I've ever been."

As a result, Karlsson has become more comfortable playing in big events like the four major championships. He tied for eighth at the Masters, shared fourth at the U.S. Open and tied for seventh at Royal Birkdale last month. Prior to this year, Karlsson only had one top 10 in 22 majors -- a tie for fifth at the 1992 Open Championship.

Now, Karlsson is quick to point out that his position improved dramatically -- he moved from 15th to seventh -- as the wind came whipping off the Irish Sea Sunday at Birkdale. In fact, he'll tell you that he'd never played so well in the airport lounge before. The fact remains, though, that Karlsson has a different mindset in the majors this year.

"Before I had a bit of a problem, I tried too hard playing the big events and I sort of pushed it too much," he said. "I didn't play my golf, I tried to almost play somebody else's golf. I couldn't see how my golf was good enough to get around these kind of golf courses. Which was probably true in a way, but I didn't really sort of take a step backwards and play it with the shots I had. So I tried to play it too difficult and for a while I just saw big rough and I couldn't play.

"Now obviously it's easier when the shots are better as well, but that can only come when I'm standing on the first tee not too afraid to go out there and meet a very tough golf course."

Torrey Pines was one of the toughest, and Karlsson played with Tiger Woods in the third round there. Take away that dismal 41 he shot on the front nine and Karlsson, who recouped with a 2-under 34 on the back that day, could have been a major winner at the age of 38.

So Karlsson refused to get ahead of himself on Thursday at Oakland Hills. He knows there are three rounds left and with no rain in the forecast, Oakland Hills is only going to get firmer and faster. He's "ecstatic" with the way he played in the first three majors, but he knows that's past and there's no time like the present.

"That's obviously a great measurement of how I have played this year," he said. "But at the same time, people are saying, well, I screwed it up a couple of times because I haven't won. With statistics, you can do anything and I'm just happy with the way things are going and keep on that."

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