Major star rising

The Baltimore Sun

LPGA Championship The first two visits by the McDonald's LPGA Championship to Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace produced victories by a pair of Hall of Famers, Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak. Suzann Pettersen might get there someday, and if she does, her win yesterday will be looked upon as the starting point.

Pettersen, a 26-year-old from Norway considered by many players as the LPGA Tour's next big star, won her second tournament in less than a month and the first major championship of her quickly blossoming career, overtaking surprise third-round leader Na On Min of South Korea on the front nine and holding off Min and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia on the back.

With a round of 5-under-par 67 and a four-round total of 14-under 274, Pettersen was one stroke better than Webb and two ahead of Min. It marked the second straight time Webb finished second in this tournament, after her playoff loss last year to Pak.

"It's a major - I haven't realized that yet," said Pettersen, whose first LPGA victory came last month in Williamsburg, Va., where she won an event widely regarded as the tour's fifth major, the Michelob Ultra Open. "But it's certainly nice to stand there on the green by yourself and lift the trophy."

Known for her short fuse and long drives, Pettersen kept her emotions in check and her tee shots mostly in the fairway, something she had failed at during the final round of this year's Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season's first major. There she dropped a four-stroke lead with four holes to play and lost by one to Morgan Pressel.

This time, Pettersen was able to play flawlessly on the back nine, matching the birdies made by Webb and Min, who in one stretch made four straight, with four of her own. None was bigger than the 15-footer on the par-3 17th that gave Pettersen a two-stroke lead and some breathing room.

'That made it a little easier," Pettersen said.

Still, Pettersen heard the roars ahead for Webb, whose 20-foot birdie putt hung on the lip on the par-4 18th before dropping in, eliciting a double-fist pump from the normally placid Webb. Pettersen knew she had to place her tee shot at the final hole in the fairway and her approach close enough to two-putt for par.

"I was really relieved when it hit the fairway on 18," said Pettersen, who left her approach about 30 feet from the cup and then lagged to within a foot before tapping in for par. "Then I knew I could do it."

It was then that Webb, 32, knew she had come close at Bulle Rock for the second straight year. Being denied her eighth major championship and 36th overall win wasn't any easier for Webb than it was last year, when she lost to Pak on the first extra hole.

"Obviously, you know to shoot 67 today, you almost would have thought that would have been good enough," said Webb, who saved par out of a bunker on the par-4 16th and then finished with birdies to make it close. "Obviously disappointed that I lost by one, but pretty happy with my performance."

So was Min, 18, playing in her first major championship and only her sixth LPGA event since joining the tour earlier this year. Min came into the round with a one-stroke lead on Pettersen, went ahead by two when she chipped in from the fringe on the par-4 fourth and then watched it slip away with three straight three-putt bogeys starting on No. 6.

Min, who was trying to eclipse Pressel, also 18, as the youngest major champion in LPGA history, shot 2-under 70. Min said she "thought too much in my head when I'm putting. Just want to forget about it and focus on the hole and my ball."

That was the way Pettersen played throughout the day, and the entire week.

The week began with Pettersen borrowing the putter of one of her pro-am partners after putting poorly the previous week in South Carolina. The change in putters came in a year when Pettersen has also changed swing coaches and caddies.

Gary Gilchrist, who has taught a number of players, including Michelle Wie, said of Pettersen: "Adversity builds character, and it helped turn her into the player she is today."

Nothing was more traumatic than the eight months Pettersen spent in 2005 not playing golf because of a slipped disc in her back. Bedridden for long stretches, Pettersen was told at one point she would never play again.

"When you're lying on the couch, your goal is to start walking, and when you start walking, your goal is to start walking for hours and when you start walking, you want to start running and when you start running, you want to bike and then you want to do weight training," Pettersen said.

Pettersen now has a new goal: becoming the No. 1 female player in the world. Ranked 12th before the LPGA Championship, Pettersen will certainly move into the top 10 for the first time in her career. With her $300,000 first prize, Pettersen is second on the LPGA money list behind Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, the No. 1 player in the world.

"I believe I can be the best player in the world," Pettersen said. "But you have to give me time. If I continue like this, that helps. It definitely helps with my confidence. It's been a good couple of months, and I have to reset my goals all the time because I achieve what I want to achieve, and I have to just look ahead."

And what does it feel like to follow Sorenstam and Pak at Bulle Rock?

"It's a good group to be in," Pettersen said.

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