Suzann Pettersen moved backward in a big way on Saturday in the Safeway Classic, but a birdie to end her day brought her within 9 shots of 1st- and 2nd-round leader Na Yeon Choi. As Choi was going out in a birdie-less 39 on Sunday, however, Pettersen kept the birdies and pars coming in a bogey-free 34. But an eagle on the par-5 10th kicked Pettersen into another gear, as she followed it up with birdies on 11, 15, and 17 to post a 30 on the back and become the leader in the clubhouse at -6 just as Golf Channel coverage began. Having gone -8 over the final 21 holes of the 54-hole tournament, all she could do was wait and see how Choi would respond.
But before then, she would have to dodge a few bullets from other players who were also going low Sunday. Hee Young Park moved from -1 after 14 holes on Saturday to -6 through 17 on Sunday--a 21-hole bogey-free stretch of her own in which she made 5 birdies--but she yanked her approach shot on the tough 18th way left and failed to get up and down from a vicious lie in the thick rough. Paula Creamer got it to -4 with 10 holes left to play, but barely missed a bunch of great birdie chances down the stretch and ended up alone in 4th still at -4. Vicky Hurst and Ryann O'Toole, who were picked by captain Rosie Jones to add some firepower to the U.S. Solheim Cup team, made a lot of birdies on Sunday, but too many bogeys kept them 3 shots off Pettersen's pace. So in the end it did come down to what Choi, who was looking for her 5th career LPGA victory and 1st of 2011, would do down the stretch.
Having made 8 birdies in her 1st 11 holes of the tournament, including 7 in a row, Choi had gotten off to a near-perfect start to the week. She was -8 through 17, then fought her way back there after a double on the 18th by the 10th hole on Saturday and again on the 15th hole, where she stayed until she missed the 1st of her short par saves on the par-4 2nd hole on Sunday. Choi would never see -8 again and after a bogey on the par-4 13th found herself out of at least a share of the tournament lead for the 1st time all week. Yet she bounced right back with solid birdies on the par-5 15th and shortened par-4 17th to take a 1-shot lead with 1 hole left to play. After a perfect drive down the left side of the 18th fairway left her a 9-iron in, she pulled it slightly and ended up just in the rough off the back-left portion of the green. It looked to me like she decelerated a bit on her run shot and left herself at least 10 feet to win the tournament. But she misread the putt and hung it out to the right. Playoff time!
Unfortunately for Choi, after another great drive on 18, she dumped her approach shot in the pond guarding the right side of the green and lost to a great up-and-down from right behind the pin by Pettersen, who extended her bogey-free streak to 22 holes on her way to her 8th career LPGA victory. Whereas Pettersen never bogeyed the 18th all week and played it in a cumulative -1, Choi was +5 in all on the final hole. Ouch! Meanwhile, Pettersen's 2nd LPGA win of the season and 2nd in her last 2 worldwide starts (her LET win the other week featured a 63-64 finish at the site of the '11 Solheim Cup!) helped her break the million-dollar mark in LPGA winnings and move into (an admittedly distant) 2nd in the Player of the Year race behind Ya Ni Tseng. I feel terrible for NYC, but I'm glad that it was Pettersen who was the beneficiary of her mistakes, given all the frustration on the course and tragedy off the course that has befallen her.
Plus, I'm glad that my fave Ai Miyazato sneaked into the top 10 with a bogey-free 68. And that Tiffany Joh kept bouncing back from troubles each day on the 7th through 9th holes; going 78-68-71 may not seem all that impressive, but it puts her 4th in the Rookie of the Year Race and safely in the top 75 on the money list in only 7 LPGA starts. Those kind of comebacks from players I really like more than makes up for my disappointment at Mika Miyazato's inability to take advantage of NYC's struggles, due to a pair of doubles as she made the turn on Sunday. T13 isn't anything to sneeze at, but it's much worse than Mikan should have finished this week.
Well, onward to the CN Canadian Women's Open in Quebec, where Michelle Wie will be looking to turn her game around and successfully defend her title, while Pettersen will be trying to make it 3 worldwide wins in a row.
[Update 1 (2:44 am): Check out LPGA.com's notes and interviews!]
[Update 2 (10:57 pm): Great epilogue from Hound Dog! And interesting thoughts on the U.S. Solheim Cup team from bangkokbobby!]