Suzann Pettersen poised to overtake Inbee Park for No. 1 in Rolex Rankings

Gareth Gay

Suzann Pettersen has been on a tear, and with two events left to go in the LPGA’s 2013 season, the 14-time tour winner has a chance to become the best woman golfer in the world.

Suzann Pettersen claimed back in June that she wasn’t a-scared of Inbee Park, who was, at the time, cruising toward her third consecutive major championship of the 2013 season.

Fast forward four months, and Pettersen, with a win at this week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational, would overtake Inbee Park for the top ranking in women’s golf. That’s quite the seismic shift in events for the LPGA Tour.

Pettersen enters the final two events of this year's campaign just .63 Rolex Ranking points behind Park (11.98-11.35), who, as she was chalking up those major titles earlier, seemed as certain to end the season as the world No. 1 as she was to capture the LPGA’s major awards.

Now, with just the limited-field Mexico tilt and the season-ending CME Group Titleholders to go, Pettersen, with her four victories in 2013, is poised to pull stunning upsets in several categories.

Not only might the 32-year-old from Norway surpass the seemingly invincible Park, who has held onto the top spot since April 15 -- a 29-week run, and the fourth longest reign in history, behind Annika Sorenstam, Ochoa, and Yani Tseng -- but she’s on a pace to capture the money title, player of the year honors, and the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average as well.

With $500,000 going to the last woman standing in Naples, Fla., next week, and little more than $93,000 separating Park ($2,335,460) from her challenger, Pettersen ($2,241,847) has a realistic shot to come out ahead on the money list. Stacy Lewis (69.55) leads the Vare race, but Pettersen’s close behind, at 69.59, and Park is third, at 69.93.

The tour’s player of the year award is points-based, and with Park ahead, 290-252, and 30 points up for grabs in each remaining tourney, Pettersen would likely have to run the table to earn her first PoY accolade.

Most surprising, perhaps, is Pettersen’s chance to get to the top of the rankings leader board. A win this week would get her to first place on her own, while a runner-up outcome, combined with Park coming in no higher than 14th (not counting ties among players in the top 13), would do the trick for Pettersen as well.

"I know to be able to get to where I want to be, I have to win tournaments and I have to take advantage of every week that I play. I've played really solid now for quite a while. It's been a good run for me," Pettersen told reporters after her win in Taiwan last month. "I feel very confident going back to the U.S., playing in Mexico next, now that I have a chance to almost compete for the overall money list, and hopefully maybe also the world rankings by the end of the year.

"So I'm very pleased the way everything is going," she added. "I've just got to keep the pedal to the metal."

Perhaps it was the pressure of trying to become the first golfer -- woman or man -- to win four consecutive majors (or even four in a season, with the Evian Championship now the fifth grand slam event), but something slowed the momentum of the 25-year-old Park. The South Korean, who has six wins this season, has struggled since she won the U.S. Women’s Open, with one third-place close her best result in that eight-contest span, which also includes four finishes no better than 32nd.

"I don’t think I was actually normal after the U.S. Open. Every tournament has not been easy for me, I’ve been under a lot of pressure," Park, who said winning player of the year is constantly on her mind, told reporters on Wednesday.

"No matter how much effort I put into trying not to think about it, I think about it," she said. "I have thought about it every week and watched the stats, looked at the numbers, I’ve been watching for Stacy and Suzann ... It’s something that I’ve always wanted to achieve so I think that’s why I’m so concerned about it ... It will be nice if I can finish it off this week."

Pettersen may have other ideas about how the week, and the year, will end.

"It’s all coming together now. I’m more balanced, I’m much more laid back [than in 2007], I know I’m good enough to win tournaments and I know I’m good enough to be No. 1 one day," she said Wednesday. "For me, it’s a matter of time before it will happen."

That time could be now, for while Park's game sputtered of late, Pettersen revved hers into high gear, taking two straight matches -- the Safeway Classic in August and the Evian two weeks later -- and adding the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship in October. Including her four triumphs, she has 14 top-10 finishes in 21 tour competitions in 2013, and No. 1 squarely in her sights.

"Yeah, being No. 2 is pretty much the first loser and I've been No. 2 behind four great No. 1s. I've been the No. 2 behind Annika, I was No. 2 behind Lorena, I was No. 2 behind Yani, and I'm No. 2 behind Inbee," Pettersen observed in Taiwan.

"The first couple times I felt maybe a little bit immature. I didn't feel quite ready to take on that role," she said. "I think personally, mentally, I'm ready to take on No. 1 ... that's my drive, that's my goal. I want to dominate ladies golf."

The 36-player field tees off Thursday in Guadalajara. Park draws Lexi Thompson and Ai Miyazato off the first tee at 10:53 a.m. local time, while Pettersen takes on defending champ Cristie Kerr and Any Yang at 12:21 p.m. on No. 10.

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