Pettersen atones for her meltdown with a major
HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. -- With a major championship in her grasp, Suzann Pettersen never flinched.
Not at the furious charge from 18-year-old Na On Min, who made four straight birdies to pull within one shot. Not at the relentless pressure from Karrie Webb, who birdied the last two holes. And not at memories of a major meltdown 10 weeks ago.
Pettersen felt like a different person at the LPGA Championship.
And it showed.
The 26-year-old Norwegian redeemed herself Sunday with a 5-under 67 for a one-shot victory over Webb and her first major. She played so close to perfection on the back nine at Bulle Rock that she had a birdie putt on every hole, only two of them longer than 12 feet.
There was no choke from this champion.
"I wasn't even close to being in those emotions that I was back then," said Pettersen, who blew a three-shot lead with four holes to play at the Kraft Nabisco. "I finally proved to all of you that I can actually put it all together and take a major. So now, I probably don't have to get that question again."
The only question now is how good she can get.
Webb described her earlier in the week as having more talent in her tiny finger that some players on the LPGA Tour, and Pettersen showed it on a demanding course, finishing at 14-under 274.
"I believe I can be the best player in the world," said Pettersen, who overcame a back injury two years ago so serious that doctors told her she might not ever play again. "But you have to give me time. It definitely helps with my confidence."
Webb closed with a 67 and had to settle for second again.
A year ago, Se Ri Pak beat her in a playoff with a 201-yard shot that stopped a few inches from the cup. This time, Webb finished with two birdies that, considering what happened at the Nabisco, she thought might be good enough.
"I knew what happened to her at Kraft, and I just knew I needed to keep putting pressure on her," Webb said. "She obviously executed very well coming down the stretch, and she should be very proud of herself. It shows a lot of courage and guts and trust in her ability."
Min, trying to become the youngest major champion in LPGA history, ran off four straight birdies through the 16th hole to get within one shot and had a 10-footer on the 17th. But she settled for pars on the last two holes for a 70 to finish third. It was her first time playing in a major, and only her sixth tournament as a pro.
Pettersen bounced back from her collapse at the Nabisco by winning a month later at the Michelob Ultra Open. But at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, she removed any lasting doubts about her psyche.
She made four birdies on the back nine, none bigger than a 12-footer on the par-3 17th to give her a cushion going to the final hole. She needed only two putts from 30 feet to win, and the pace was perfect, just like every shot she hit down the stretch.
"It's certainly a nice feeling to stand on the green by yourself and lift the trophy," said Pettersen, who earned $300,000 and surpassed $1 million for the year, second only to Lorena Ochoa.
Ochoa remains No. 1 and without a major. She was close enough to make a move, one of eight players separated by three shots at various stages of the back nine, but missed key birdie chances and had to settle for 69 and a tie for sixth, six shots behind.
Michelle Wie of Honolulu completed an acrimonious stay at Bulle Rock with a small consolation -- her first performance-based paycheck of the year.
"It's a good feeling to get a paycheck," she said with a laugh.
Then again, she had to make an 8-foot bogey putt on the final hole to break 80, it was her 20th consecutive round without breaking par, she finished in last place by 10 shots, and her 21-over 309 was the highest 72-hole score of her career, professional or amateur.
"I think it was a good decision (to play), but also maybe a couple of weeks too early," Wie said. "I have to test the waters sometime. I felt like this week is a lot better than last week, and I hope the U.S. Open is going to be a lot better."
The Women's Open is in two weeks at Pine Needles.
The teenager who stole most of the attention through three days was Min, who showed some recovery skills of her own. Playing in her first major, and only her sixth tournament as a pro, she lost a two-shot lead on the front nine by missing par putts inside 4 feet and failing to get out of a bunker on the eighth hole for her third straight bogey.
Min didn't make another birdie until the 13th, and then she couldn't miss.
Most of the back nine was a duel between Webb and Pettersen, with the Norwegian in the final group and always in the lead.
Webb got to within one shot with a 40-foot birdie on the 11th, and Pettersen answered with an 8-foot birdie on the 13th. Moments later, Webb made an 8-foot birdie on the 14th.
The pivotal hole was the par-5 15th, which can be reached in two with a good drive.
Webb didn't hit one. She pushed it into the right rough, had to chip out short of the hazard that left her 207 yards away and did well to make par. Pettersen found the fairway and the green, and two-putted for birdie to lead by two with three holes to play.
"One shot -- I'll be thinking of a lot of places where I could have made that up," Webb said.
Pettersen won't have to think about Kraft Nabisco until she returns to the California desert next year as a major champion.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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