Published: Aug 12, 2011 12:02 AM EDT
Updated: Aug 12, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

JOHNS CREEK, Georgia (AP) - Shaun Micheel is back in contention at the PGA Championship after nearly walking away from golf earlier this year.

Micheel, who hasn't won since breaking through for his first career victory at Oak Hill eight years ago, shot a 4-under 66 on Thursday to move within three shots of leader Steve Stricker in the season's last major.

"It was just a great day," Micheel said. "It really is."

For the 2003 PGA champion, it has been an uphill battle.

After the death of his mother, Donna, last October, he said he lost some desire for tournament golf. He also began thinking about the time that playing was keeping him away from his children, 7-year-old Dade and 4-year-old Marin. Plus, there were the health problems that kept Micheel off balance - literally - and way down the money list.

Micheel said he had tubes placed in his ears last May to correct dizziness he felt at times. During an MRI for that condition, doctors found an enlargement in Micheel's carotid artery, which led them to check for an aneurysm. Micheel didn't have one, but all the poking and prodding affected his game.

Micheel has had only one top 25 finish in 21 events this season, has missed nine cuts and is 178th in the FedEx Cup points race.

Still, the PGA Championship is something special for Micheel.

"No matter really what the state of my game is coming into a major, particularly the PGA, I find a way to kind of dig deep and maybe get a few good scores," he said.

That's what happened in 2006 when he was runner-up to Tiger Woods at Medinah Country Club and that's what occurred at Atlanta Athletic Club.

"There was really nothing special," he said.

Micheel birdied the first, third and fifth holes, then chipped in from a bunker on the 14th for his final birdie. It was the lowest score of the afternoon starters and his lowest in 25 career rounds at the year's last major.

Micheel said he learned in practice that while the course is long, he could keep out of trouble with good positioning. He was right, just look at the top four finishers Thursday - Stricker (63), Jerry Kelly (67), Micheel and Scott Verplank (67). "They're smart players," Micheel said. "They're not bombers."

Micheel surprised the golf world with his PGA Championship, remembered for his remarkable 7-iron from 175 yards out on the 72nd hole that settled inches from the cup to secure a two-shot victory over Chad Campbell. Micheel has had a successful career since then, but just hasn't won a tournament.

"I would never have thought that I could have gone eight years or whatever it is without winning again," Micheel said.

Each time Micheel leaves for a tournament, son Dade asks when he's bringing home another prize like the Wanamaker Trophy. It may be sooner than even he thought.

"It sure is exciting to get back here and play well," he said. "I guess it's always fun when you play well,"