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Published: Friday, 8/8/2008

Karlsson finds peace, conquers self-doubts, takes early lead

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - It's pretty hard for Robert Karlsson to hide. He is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, which wouldn't cause him to stand out in an NBA arena or even in a pro football huddle.

For a pro golfer, though, that's rarified air. Fans who watch their golf on TV might not realize that most of their heroes are fairly diminutive as athletes go. John Daly only looks bigger than life. He stands 5-11. Tiger Woods is 6-1. Vijay Singh is 6-2. Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III are both 6-3.

Karlsson, a Swede who now lives in Monaco, is a giant by golf standards. The problem was that for so long he tried to hide from himself.

He has been into various forms of self-discovery. He has kept numerous sports psychologists in business and probably paid for some of their kids to attend college. He probably hasn't been to see any voodoo queens, but he's tried just about everything else and played mind games with the best of them.

In recent years, Karlsson has worked with a Swedish coach who pushes a pretty sane doctrine - taking responsibility and leadership of your life.

"I would say what has made the most difference the past couple years is that I have stopped doing all these things to look outside myself and instead just became comfortable being Robert a calmness inside myself," Karlsson said. "Now, on the first tee, I'm my own boss a lot more than I've ever been."

The results bear that out. In this year's major championships, Karlsson tied for eighth at the Masters, tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, and tied for seventh at the British Open. Yesterday, he opened the 90th PGA Championship with a 2-under 68 at Oakland Hills, good enough to tie Jeev Milkha Singh atop the leaderboard.

He did that despite taking a double bogey on his very first hole and, after reaching 4-under early on the back nine, giving a couple strokes away coming in.

"It was an interesting round," he said. "A little bit too interesting, I think."

But he didn't try to analyze it beyond that.

In the past, he said, he could "try to force results, trying to make it happen instead of just going out and playing. I sort of tried too hard. I tried to almost play somebody else's golf because I couldn't see how my golf was good enough to get around these kinds of golf courses."

He has proved in the '08 majors that his golf is plenty good enough.

LEFTY EVEN: Phil Mickelson may be getting used to missing fairways and occasionally giving shots away as a result. Yesterday, though, he said he "felt like I let a few short game shots get away," which is somewhat unusual.

Mickelson started bogey-bogey and finished with another, so he had to be fairly content with an opening-round 70.

"I'm just happy to have shot even par today," he said. "I think after that start, bogeying the first two holes, it was pretty good to hang in there, fight, and make some birdies because there were a lot of holes that were tough to get to.

"Everybody is going to make bogeys. If you can just keep your round around par you're going to be in the tournament. What other guys do doesn't really matter because some will go up the leaderboard and come back. You just know that par is the kind of score that is going to be pretty good."

SCRATCH, SCRATCH: Kenny Perry, a three-time PGA Tour winner this year and a pre-PGA title favorite, withdrew from the tournament late yesterday after recording an opening-round 79. Perry suffered a scratched cornea while removing a contact lens on Wednesday. He reported for his tee time and finished his round just before play was suspended at 8:39 last night because of darkness. Eighteen players will have to return early this morning to complete first-round play.

THE PAIN GAME: Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open with an injured knee, and Padraig Harrington captured the British Open with a sore wrist. Now, Jeev Milkha Singh of India is chasing the PGA Championship with an injured tendon near his right ankle.

"There is a lot of pain," he said. "I injured it just before the French Open, so that was about seven or eight weeks ago. I've been wearing a brace the last four weeks. I had an MRI done, and the doctor said I needed four weeks off. But I've pushed myself and kept playing."

Playing with pain seems to agree with Singh. Since the injury, he has won the Austrian Open as well as a tournament in Japan.

Yesterday, he opened the PGA with a 2-under 68.

"I've been playing well, and that's why I'm pushing myself through this week," Singh said.

'OTHER' SINGH: The better-known Vijay Singh, a two-time PGA champion who won last week's World Golf Championship event in Akron, didn't fare as well in the first round, finishing bogey-bogey for a 76, his worst-ever opening round in PGA play. Today, he will try to avoid missing the cut in this tournament for the third straight year.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: A year ago, when the U.S.-based British Open qualifier was staged at Oakland Hills, Sean O'Hair scored a triple bogey on the first hole but still managed to qualify.

"I learned how hard it was," O'Hair said of Oakland Hills, where he carded a 69 in the first round of the PGA. "The rough was a lot thicker and deeper than this and the pins [placement] were ridiculously hard. It's one of those challenging old-school golf courses where once you're on the green it doesn't mean that it's over.

"The first time I played it was the first time I saw it. I tripled my first hole, but after that I played pretty well. I think that helped me out because I find it pretty easy to let this golf course intimidate you."

O'Hair tied for 14th in the Masters this year but missed the U.S. Open after suffering a minor injury in a car accident. He returned in time for the British Open but finished 82nd at Royal Birkdale.

UP AND DOWN: Ben Curtis, the Ohioan who won the 2003 British Open, was cruising along and was tied for the lead at 3-under after scoring a birdie at No. 1, which was his 10th hole of the day. He proceeded to bogey six of his remaining eight holes to finish at 3-over 73.

Since winning the British, which was his first-ever major, Curtis has missed the cut in 12 of 20 major championships in which he has played. He did post top-10 finishes in both the 2007 and '08 British Opens.



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