NAPLES, Fla. – Suzann Pettersen stalked her final birdie putt Thursday as if it were late in the final round and she needed to make it to win the CME Group Titleholders.
Turns out, she was just trying to top Cristie Kerr’s score.
Pettersen holed an 8-footer for birdie at the last to shoot 6-under-par 66 at TwinEagles Club, good for a tie for first place with Sun Young Yoo and So Yeon Ryu on Day 1. In Pettersen’s mind, it was bigger than that, though. It moved her one shot ahead of Kerr, her playing partner in the first round.
“I just tried to birdie the last so I didn’t have to be paired with her tomorrow,” Pettersen cracked.
Whether it’s the first round or the last, Pettersen indicated it’s intense when you’re paired with Kerr.
“We’re competitive,” Pettersen said. “I know she wants to have the low round in the group. You just know it’s going to annoy her when you take it right there at the end, but we had a good day.”
They re-do the pairings every day at the CME Group Titleholders, based on scoring.
With world No. 1 Yani Tseng off to a slow start Thursday with a 75, the sense that there’s a growing opportunity at the top of the game widens. World No. 2 Stacy Lewis (70) isn’t the only LPGA pro looking to take advantage. Kerr and Pettersen are finding their best forms in bids to send a message going into the 2013 season.
Kerr is looking to win back-to-back events. She claimed her 15th career LPGA title last week winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, her first victory in two years. Pettersen won in back-to-back weeks on the Asian swing last month.
Lewis won two weeks ago in Japan, setting her up as the Rolex Player of the Year.
Kerr, 35, is the only American ever to reign as No. 1 in the world, and she believes she can get back there again.
“I have a lot of golf left in my career, and I’m starting to have fun again,” Kerr said. “Don’t count me out.”
Kerr was No. 1 in the world for five weeks in 2010. With her victory in Mexico last week she moved up four spots to No. 11.
Pettersen, 31, is No. 5 in the world and looking to move up again this week.
“I’m in it to win it,” Pettersen said. “That says it all. I feel like my shoulders are freed up after winning two in Asia. I don't feel like I have to go out and do anything. That makes the game just that much easier.”
Pettersen’s ambitions match Kerr’s.
“I still feel like I have my best golf ahead of me,” Pettersen said. “My big goal now is to prepare for 2013, hopefully come out strong, the way I finish [this week].”
For the longest time, Kerr reigned as the highest ranked American in the world. She said she’s motivated by what Lewis did becoming the first American since Beth Daniel in 1994 to claim Rolex Player of the Year honors.
“If I couldn’t win it, as an American, I wanted to see a fellow American win it,” Kerr said. “I was so excited for Stacy.”
Lewis clinched the award with a tie for fourth in Mexico last week. Even if she had struggled, Lewis would have clinched by virtue of Kerr’s win. Inbee Park had to win last week to have a chance to overtake Lewis for the award.
“We didn’t want Inbee picking off another win,” Kerr said. “It felt good to put a nail in the coffin, so to speak.”
The CME Group Titleholders may be the season-ending event, but it feels like players see it as a chance to send a message into next year’s start.