TWELVE months ago Marcus Fraser could not see the light at the end of the tunnel - yesterday he was facing his brightest hour at the Australian PGA Championship at Hyatt Regency Coolum.
The little-known 33-year-old from Corowa, in southern NSW, enjoys a two-stroke lead going into the third day after shooting a blistering seven-under 65.
A victory at the $1.5 million tournament would cap a remarkable year for the European Tour veteran after he was forced to contemplate retirement because of a debilitating back injury.
In January he went under the knife to have an artifical disc inserted in his back after suffering a disc prolapse that led to him losing the use of his right arm.
He admitted that during the darker moments of his rehabitiatlion he was forced to consider what he would do for a living if he had to walk away from the game he loved.
"I'm not exactly qualified to do too many things," he said.
"I definitely thought, 'What if? What if I don't recover from this?'
"Because of the amount of pain I was in, I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"I just didn't think it was possible to ever play golf again.
"I could pick up a club and move it a foot and that was about it. I thought. 'If that's what it's like, this (playing golf) is not an option'. The only option was to go and have an operation and luckily it worked and I'm sitting up here today."
Fraser's round included seven birdies.
He has hit just one bogey to be at 11-under for the tournament.
He was two strokes ahead of American Bubba Watson, with South Koreans K.T. Kim and Y.E. Yang and Australians John Senden, Adam Scott and Robert Allenby a further stroke back.
Since having surgery, Fraser has rebounded to be 100% fit and playing some of the best golf of his career.
Five weeks after undergoing surgery, he returned to the course at the Cadillac Championship in Florida.
The birth of his second child in July, along with his operation, limited him to four tournaments in the first half of the year.
Although he had a slow start to the 2011 European Tour, he eventually hit his straps in finishing fourth at the BMW PGA Championship in July before racking up another two top-10 finishes in the final four events of the year.
World No.186 Fraser stood out like a sore thumb at the top of the leaderboard, which included five Presidents Cup players in the top seven.
However, he said he was unfazed about walking among such giants and would have few nerves defending his lead over the final two rounds.
"I've played in Europe for nine years now and Europe has grown so much as a tour over the last however many years - every week we're surrounded by guys like that," he said.
"Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy - they're huge names in golf.
"We're lucky that those guys support the tour every week.
"It's obviously very strong competition in Europe and you get used to being around those guys.
"I'd like to contend more with them. But I'm lucky enough to be doing that this week."
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