BLAINE, Minn. – Gary Hallberg can't help but smile when he talks about how far he's come in the past year.
Hallberg headed into this week's 3M Championship fresh off a second-place finish at last week's Senior British Open, his best performance since winning the 2010 Ensure Classic.
Between then and now, however, golf has been anything but easy for the 54-year-old. Hallberg fought injuries last season and finished 48th on the tour money list. He had to take part in the Champions Tour's National Qualifying Tournament to earn back his exempt status for this season. This year, he's already guaranteed a top-30 money spot, earning him full status for 2013.
Trusting his ability to belong with his best competition, practicing the power of positive thought, has been the cornerstone of Hallberg's resurgence. He's also become more adept at putting a bad shot behind him and looking ahead to the next swing.
''Confidence has been something I haven't had like other guys, top players. I just kind of believe more and more,'' he said Wednesday at the TPC Twin Cities course, north of Minneapolis. ''I've also tried to play a little smarter and safer.''
Hallberg had a combined seven top-10 finishes on the 50-and-over tour in the last four years; this year he has six, including in three of his last six starts.
''I'm hitting the ball as good as I've hit the ball. My putting is good. My chipping is good, and I'm healthy,'' he said.
Throughout much of his career, Hallberg continually changed his approach. Now he's realized that his game in itself is good enough for him to compete on the tour.
''I've been working on the same thing for about two years,'' he said. That has included working closely with Mike McGetrick, widely regarded as one of the game's top teachers and who often caddies for Hallberg. ''We've stuck to a one-swing theory for me.''
Four of his past six rounds have been in the 60s, including a 63 in the windy second round last week at Turnberry in Scotland. Bernhard Langer called it ''the round of the year.''
''The big thing is to back it up. It doesn't mean anything if you do it once,'' said Hallberg, who shot 73 and 66 in the final two rounds to finish two shots behind Fred Couples. ''I went out in the pro-am today and made a bunch of birdies and hit the ball nice. I feel like I'm playing decent.''
Hallberg has had success at this course before, finishing second in 2008. He shot an opening round 65 last year, but went 76-72 over the weekend to finish in a tie for 49th.
Three of the top six players in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup standings will miss the tournament: No. 2 Roger Chapman, who won the U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship; No. 4 Couples and No. 6 John Cook, who withdrew Tuesday because of the death of a close friend.
Nonetheless, with the likes of Langer and Minnesota native Tom Lehman competing and forecast rain to further soften the greens, the scores are expected to be low again. The winning number has been at least 15-under par in each of the past five years, including a 25-under by David Frost in 2010.
Tournament officials said they'll reach $20 million in charitable donations this year, something no other tour event has achieved during the same two-decade timeframe. And for the fourth straight year, tournament admission is free.
''I look forward to another outstanding event,'' said defending champion Jay Haas.