Joakim Haeggman battled his way to a share of the first round lead with Damien McGrane in the Madeira Islands Open BPI - Portugal at Porto Santo Golfe with a five under par 66 then admitted he had come close to retirement less than six months earlier.
In 1993 Haeggman became the first Swede to represent Europe in The Ryder Cup, but he was back at Qualifying School last November in a bid to reignite his career.
"I felt like an old man on The Challenge Tour last year, and if I'd failed at the Qualifying School in November it was probably the end of the story," said Haeggman.
Instead, he finished joint fifth and as his top ten finish at the Joburg Open this year showed, he still has plenty to offer on The European Tour.
"This is still what I want to do," added Haeggman, whose last Tour victory was the 2004 Qatar Masters.
"I've been working hard like everybody else and now I've got my foot in the door I'm going to try to stick it in as hard as I can."
Level par after a front nine 35, the 39 year old birdied the tenth and then had four in a row from the 12th to sign for a flawless 66.
“Overall it has been very steady,” he said.
“I did some good work in Spain last week with Simon Holmes my golf coach and it has been very satisfying. We all work hard at the game but it nice to be able to bring it out here on the golf course and make a great start to the tournament.
“I hit a great chip on ten from an almost impossible lie to two feet and made that. I pitched it to a foot on 12 and then had a lovely six iron to eight feet on 13 which is obviously a bit of a bonus. I pushed the drive on 14 to be honest but played a nice approach and holed the birdie putt and then played a great pitch to the 15th for birdie and managed to stay steady coming in.
“My game has been pretty good since November when I finished sixth at the Qualifying School. I took that on and finished seventh in Joburg at the start of the year so there have been a few good things going on. It's just that right now you really struggle to get a chance to play. You come off Tour School, get one chance, finish seventh and go to 60th in The Race to Dubai and then you have to watch everyone overtake you - before you know it you are back to being 120th again. So it's really nice to be able to play again and get the feel for it and get back into The Tour.”
Haeggman’s effort was only matched late in the day by Ireland’s McGrane, with Spain's Carl Suneson, England’s Andrew Butterfield and Argentinian youngster Estanislao Goya two shots further back on three under.
A brilliant bunker shot by McGrane at the final hole denied Haeggman the outright overnight lead.
The Irishman went out in a five under 31 after starting at the tenth tee but last year’s Volvo China Open winner was unable to sustain that kind of form on the testing course and had dropped back to four under after 17 holes, which he looked unlikely to improve on when his tee shot found the sand at the ninth - his last.
But his chip came out perfectly and snaked it’s way left to right into the centre of the cup to secure a share of the lead.
“I thought I was right up on the bank and I was delighted to see that it had gone in the bunker to be honest,” he said.
“It was still an extremely difficult bunker shot but one of those rare things happened where not only did I put the ball on the green but I managed to get it in the hole which was great because it was a very difficult shot. All you can ask for is that you hit a good bunker shot and, even if it had finished six feet from the hole I would have been happy, but the fact that it went in was a real sweetener at the end of the day.
“I played really well all day – I made only two bogeys and they were really down to the wind as opposed to bad shots. I played well, started off great with three birdies in a row with good shots all the way. I played well all day and to hole that bunker shot to tie the lead is great.
“On the eighth hole I had 151 yards to the green and I had to hit five iron so it certainly was extreme. The greens are difficult enough as it is, but it just shows that I was chipping well and pitching them close and putting well too. You really have to commit to the shots out there in that kind of wind. You have to make up your mind, commit and be positive and I managed to do that all day and hit a lot of good shots.”
Suneson, who represented England at amateur level, carded four birdies on his outward nine and at one point was five under alongside Haeggman, but back to back bogeys on his closing holes set him back.
Butterfield’s round contained five birdies and two bogeys, as did 20 year old Goya’s.