Suzann Pettersen was on the verge of blowing a final-round seven-stroke lead over Catriona Matthew in Sunday’s LPGA HanaBank Championship when her caddie suggested she put her foot back on the accelerator.
“After I bogeyed eight, I looked at my caddie [and] said, ‘If I am going to bogey, I might as well just fire right at the pin. There’s no point in playing safe,’” Pettersen told reporters after holding off a hard-charging Matthew by sinking a five-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole on Sky 72 Golf Club's Ocean Course in Incheon, South Korea. "He said, ‘Why don't you just play as aggressive as you have all week? What are you trying to do?’"
Pettersen, who carded a 2-over 74 on the Sunday of the 54-hole event, her highest round of the week, conceded she began the day's round playing golf’s version of a “prevent” defense. That strategy seemed to work as well for her as it often does for football teams hoping to stop the opposition from connecting on long scoring passes. After all, as NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden once observed, “All a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.”
Pettersen figured that out before it was too late.
“I might have gone out trying to be a little bit protective, which obviously does not fit my game at all,” said the 31-year-old Norwegian that non-golf fans may know from her nearly nude stint in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. She finished the tourney at 11-under par, thanks to three birdies, one bogey, and two doubles on Sunday.
Matthew, with a final-round 67, almost did to Pettersen what the Europeans did to the Americans last month at the Ryder Cup. But after playing the par-5 18th three times in overtime, Pettersen drained a birdie putt for her ninth LPGA Tour win -- the first since August 2011 at the Safeway Classic.
After breaking the course record with an opening-round 63, and scoring a 68 on Saturday, Pettersen began the day with a five-shot edge over Rookie of the Year shoo-in So Yeon Ryu. A double bogey on the par-3 12th put her briefly in a two-shot hole to Matthew.
The two were tied at 11-under after Pettersen birdied the par-4 14th and Matthew bogeyed the par-4 16th.
Defending champion Yani Tseng broke out of her nearly season-long slump with two rounds in the 60s (67, 70, 69) to finish third at 10-under -- her first top-10 result since the Match Play Championship in May.
South Korea’s Se Ri Pak finished fourth at 9-under, while Sandra Gal and 17-year-old Lexi Thompson were next at 8-under. Ryu’s 73 put her in a tie for seventh at 7-under.
In the final round of her career as a professional golfer, Pak’s countrywoman Mi Hyun Kim shot a 78 and tied for 61st in the 68-player field. The eight-time winner, who played the event with a sponsor’s exemption, announced her retirement earlier this month.
Other notables included Michelle Wie, who tied for 30th at even par, and Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods, who finished 60th at 7-over.