Suzann Pettersen

Julio Cortez, Associated Press - Ap

Pettersen starting to heat up in Naples

  • Article by: DOUG FERGUSON
  • Associated Press
  • November 16, 2012 - 7:16 AM

NAPLES, Fla. - Suzann Pettersen can't win the LPGA Tour money title or the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Players can't go eight months and 20 tournaments before winning and hope to be in the running for any of the big awards.

She might have to settle for being the hottest player in women's golf.

Pettersen won back-to-back tournaments in Asia, and allowed herself to think about yet another trophy Thursday when she played bogey-free around the TwinEagles Club on her way to a 6-under 66. That gave her a share of the lead with So Yeon Ryu and Sun Young Yoo after the opening round of the Titleholders.

"I still feel like I have my best golf ahead of me," Pettersen said.

Too bad it's the end of the road.

The Titleholders is the final tournament of the year, and about all Pettersen can do is add to her 11 career wins on the LPGA, add to her bank account and perhaps pack away some momentum going into next year, even though that won't start for another three months.

So what took her so long to get going this year?

"It takes some time to get this machine going," she said with a smile on the eve of the Titleholders.

It was purring in the opening round, where Pettersen picked her spots and turned it on at the end of the round. She birdied two of her last three holes, the exception coming on the 17th hole when a birdie putt caught the lip.

Ryu already has clinched LPGA rookie of the year. She won the U.S. Women's Open last year before she was an LPGA member. Yoo had a five-shot lead until losing three shots on the last two holes with a pair of three-putts, one of them a double bogey on the par-3 eighth when her tee shot bounced over the green and down a steep slope.

Stacy Lewis, the LPGA player of the year, needs to win the Titleholders to have any chance of winning the money title. She was within two shots of the lead after an eagle on the par-5 13th, but the 27-year-old American dropped two shots coming in and had to settle for a 70.

For now, Pettersen looks like the player to beat.

"I still feel like I have the best golf ahead of me," she said. "I'm not too worried if it's season 2012 or season 2013. My big goal now is to prepare and be well for 2013 and hopefully come out strong the way I finish, and hopefully get another three rounds together and see where that takes me for this tournament."

She played in the same group with Cristie Kerr, whose win last week in Mexico was her first in two years. Kerr opened with a 67 and was one shot behind, along with U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi.

"I played awesome last week and carried that into this week," Kerr said.

It was a long walk with a lot of rides at the TwinEagles Club, which winds through residential neighborhoods where several homes are under construction. Players had to ride in carts from green to tee on about half the holes, which was the easy part. The test came on the expansive greens, some shaped like boxes, others like crescent rolls.

The warm weather and gentle breeze allowed for good scores, with 48 players at par or better among the 73 in the field. There were a few exceptions, starting with Michelle Wie. She was wild with her first tee shot, and it finally caught up to her on the back nine en route to an 81.

Yani Tseng's struggles returned. After winning three times in her first four tournaments, the No. 1 player in the women's world ranking tapered off in a big way, and she didn't look capable of turning that around in the final event of the year, opening with a 75.

Pettersen suddenly looks unstoppable.

"We play the game to win, don't we?" she said. "I'm in it to win. That stays it all. I feel like my shoulders are fairly freed up after winning two in Asia. I don't feel like I really have to go out and do anything. That makes the game that much easier."

Her biggest thrill Thursday was beating Kerr, with whom she has a friendly rivalry. They matched birdies on three holes until Pettersen got her at the end.

"I just tried to birdie the last so I didn't have to be paired with her tomorrow," Pettersen said. "We're competitive. I know she probably wants to have the low round in the group. You just know it's going to annoy her when you kind of take it right at the end there. But we had a good day."

Lewis and Ryu are gearing up for the awards dinner Friday night, with both having to give a speech — Lewis as the player of the year, Ryu as the top rookie. Ryu won the U.S. Women's Open last year, but she was not an LPGA member.

Yoo won a major this year, even if the runner-up was far more memorable. That was the Kraft Nabisco Championship, when I.K. Kim had a 12-inch putt to win at Rancho Mirage and missed it, and then lost to Yoo in the playoff.

This time, the stunning finish belonged to Yoo. She was on the verge of building a big lead until her 4-iron over the green, a fat chip that barely got onto the green and three putts for a double bogey. She compounded that with another three-putt on the ninth, which brought her back to the field.

"I hit the ball great all day, but I'm a little disappointed how I finished the last couple of holes," Yoo said. "But still, 6 under was a good score. ... I still have 54 holes to play, so I feel good."

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