Suzann Pettersen rallied from nine shots back on Sunday to win the 2011 Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola, recording a par on the 18th hole to defeat Rolex Rankings No. 5 Na Yeon Choi on the first hole of a playoff. Pettersen fired the lowest round of the week, a 7-under 64, on the Ghost Creek Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club and finished her round nearly two hours before Choi bogeyed the 18th hole to force the playoff.
In the playoff, Choi’s second shot on the par-4 18th went into the water to the right of the green, and she missed a putt for bogey before Pettersen, who had lost in a playoff to M.J. Hur at the 2009 Safeway Classic, sank her winning par putt.
Pettersen, who is a native of Norway, entered Sunday at 1-over-par, trailing second-round leader Choi by nine shots, but a strong day with her putter helped her to stake the impressive comeback. Pettersen had five birdies and one eagle on No. 10, which was nearly an albatross as Pettersen joked she had to sink just a two-inch putt, en route to putting herself at the top of the leaderboard.
This is Pettersen’s second LPGA Tour title of the year and the eighth of her career. She also won the 2011 Sybase Match Play Championship back in May. Petterson, who recently captured the Ladies European Tour’s Ladies Irish Open at Killeen Castle on Aug. 7, will now move up to No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings behind World No. 1 Yani Tseng.
“I definitely didn’t think I was going to sit here when I started the day warming up,” Pettersen said after her victory. “It was nice to have a back‑to‑back win, Ireland and here, and my full‑time caddie on the bag this week. So now this is really a bonus coming off a five‑day vacation back home. I did not anticipate this, but I’ll take it.”
Another emotional win: While things have been clicking on the golf course for Pettersen this summer, life certainly has not been easy off of it. First there was the tragedy that struck her hometown of Oslo, Norway on July 22. A total of 77 people lost their lives in two attacks, a bombing near the government buildings in the capital city and a mass shooting at a youth camp on a nearby island.
Pettersen was grieving another loss this week after a close family friend, Annan Henneie, was killed in a skydiving accident on Wednesday back in Norway. Henneie, 29, left behind a wife and a 10-day-old son and Pettersen dedicated her victory to his memory.
“It’s been a brutal summer,” Pettersen said. “This last incident was just the top of the ‑‑ just, I don’t know. It’s, like I said, it’s been very, very tough. All I can think of is my love and my hugs go to his family and his wife and his little son. It’s just very, very sad.”
“It makes you realize life’s not all about golf,” she added. “It makes you put things in perspective.”
Moving on Up: Pettersen woke up on Sunday morning thinking that she was too far behind the leaders to be able to put herself into contention. So instead, she focused on another goal in order to motivate herself to shoot a low round – her spot in the Rolex Rankings.
“I’m on the range, and Dave [Brooker, Pettersen’s caddy] goes you know if you shoot a low one today you might take over the number two spot in the world ranking,” Pettersen said. “Sometimes you just need a few triggers like that to get an extra focus and make you wanting it because you’re kind of out of the hunt, you feel like.”
Of course Pettersen was able to shoot a low enough round to put her right back in the mix for another victory, but she also accomplished that second goal. When the Rolex Rankings are released on Monday, Pettersen will jump ahead of Cristie Kerr to take over the No. 2 spot.
“No. 2 ranking doesn’t really mean much to me,” Pettersen said. “I’m trying to chase down Yani. To chase down her, you’ve got to win tournaments. I went one step in the right direction.”
So close again: Na Yeon Choi has yet to capture a victory on the LPGA Tour in 2011 but she certainly came close this week. Choi entered Sunday’s final round with a three-shot lead over Stacy Lewis yet she struggled on the front nine, shooting a three-over 39 to drop her back to 5-under-par.
Choi birdied No. 10 but a bogey on No. 13 forced to give up at least a share of the lead for the first time all day. Still the 2010 Vare Trophy winner managed to come to the 18th hole with a one-shot lead thanks to birdies on 15 and 17. But Choi found trouble on 18 after she hit her second shot just over the green. After leaving her chip shot about 12 feet short, Choi missed her par putt to force the playoff with Pettersen and she to settle for her first runner-up finish of 2011, which was her sixth top-10 finish of the year.
“First of all, congratulations to Suzann,” Choi said. “She played so well today. I shot 2‑over par, and it’s not a great score, but she played so well. She did a really good job.
“Like in the playoff, I just hit it and missed the shot, and it’s my fault. I think I got still great experience. Like if I have next time like same situation I’ll be better than the other player, right? So I got some here. So just not disappointed and I keep trusting myself, and I’m doing great. So we’ll see next week.”