The fairways looked wider, the pins seemed bigger and, as a result, the smile was certainly brighter on Mardan Mamat's weathered face.
Singapore's top golfer scooped his second title in as many months with a comprehensive four-shot victory at the US$100,000 (S$132,000) Sabah Masters yesterday.
Not bad for someone who - just four months ago - was close to hanging up his clubs for good.
The 20-year veteran was sickened by missed cuts and putts which had put him in danger of losing his Asian Tour card for the first time in a decade.
But, persuaded by his family to keep going, he turned things around with a runaway victory in the Resorts World Manila Masters late last November.
That was his first Asian Tour triumph in more than 21/2 years and gave him a two-year exemption on the circuit.
The father of five could breathe easier - and it has showed in his swings at the ASEAN PGA Tour's season-ender last week.
Refreshed from a three-week break, he played a steady game backed by timely scrambling to negate some wayward drives and misjudged approaches.
"I'm very pleased with my performance - I struck the ball with a lot of conviction and my course management was excellent," he said after pocketing US$16,675 for his efforts at the Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club.
A three-under 68 capped a solid four-day total of 274, four strokes ahead of Malaysians Danny Chia and Arie Irawan at the full-field event.
The 47-year-old made up for the disappointment in the 2013 edition where he blew a four-shot lead and lost in a play-off to Filipino Antonio Lascuna.
From 2004 to 2010, he finished in the top 20 at 25 Asian Tour events. In the past four seasons, he has recorded just 10 such finishes.
With his current purple patch, a late flourish - instead of early retirement - could well define his career.
Having banked US$219,972 last year, thanks largely to his Manila Masters win, he remains committed to a daily routine of waking up before daybreak to hit the range and gym.
He said: "The secret I believe is to stay healthy, keep breathing and play better golf, even when the chips are down."
Local pro Lam Chih Bing, who has competed with Mardan since 1999, believes fitness will be decisive in the twilight years of the veteran's career.
He said: "Mardan has had some knee injuries so how he manages that will be crucial.
"He's always been a good striker of the ball. If he putts well, he will be in contention wherever he plays."
This article was first published on Jan 18, 2015.
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