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Win or no, Karlsson where he wants to be

Robert Karlsson is two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday and has been playing professional golf for a little more than half of those years, often in the far corners of the world.

But it wasn't until Sunday afternoon that Karlsson, who moved with his wife and two children to Charlotte a year ago, felt the true rush of thinking he could win a major championship on the back nine of the final round.

He didn't, ultimately tying for fourth when his PGA Championship hopes bled away with three closing bogeys at Atlanta Athletic Club's unforgiving finish, but the smile on Karlsson's sun-bronzed face showed the lingering satisfaction from his most serious flirtation with a major championship trophy.

Four previous times, the 6-foot-5 Swede had finished in the top 10 of a major. But they weren't like Sunday in this northern suburb of Atlanta when Karlsson played his first 12 holes 6 under par and was within one stroke of the lead as he turned toward the clubhouse.

"Things were going well. Things were going my way," he said.

No wonder Karlsson felt it might be his day.

At the par-3 fourth hole, he missed the green to the right but holed a 65-foot shot from the fringe that slammed into the cup for a birdie.

He had a tap-in birdie at the par-4 sixth, then tacked on birdies at Nos. 8 and 10, practically knocking down the flagsticks with his approach shots.

At the par-5 12th, set up for birdies, Karlsson striped another drive, then lasered a 6-iron to within 6 feet of the hole, setting up an eagle that pushed him to 8 under par for the championship and, at that moment, within one of Jason Dufner's lead.

That was as good as it would get, however.

Mud on his ball caused him to miss the green long at the par-4 16th, leading to a bogey.

Still, Karlsson thought he could win.

"When I came to 17, I thought I have a good chance here," Karlsson said.

A three-putt bogey finished that thought and a closing bogey at the brutal 18th hardly mattered. The way it turned out, pars on the three closing holes would have earned Karlsson a spot in the playoff with Keegan Bradley and Dufner.

Golfers can't live in a what-if world, though, not if they want to keep their sanity.

For several years, Karlsson has worked on himself more than his game, intent on making himself comfortable under pressure. He has talked about finding freedom on the course.

On Sunday afternoon, he found himself close to where he wants to be.

"It's probably the first time I can say to myself I am good enough to win one of these," Karlsson said. "It felt good being up there."