EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – A force of nature won out in the end.
No, not Mother Nature, who punished the Evian Championship with torrential rains this past week.
Suzann Pettersen prevailed, sweeping across the Evian Resort Golf Club Sunday with determination almost as inexorable as any storm that has swept through here.
With brilliant ball-striking and a notably revitalized putting stroke, Pettersen won Evian’s beseiged debut as the LPGA’s fifth major.
Pettersen won with a 3-under-par 68, holding off 16-year-old amateur sensation Lydia Ko in a back-nine duel.
At 10-under 203, Pettersen finished two shots better than Ko (70) and four better than Lexi Thompson (68).
“Lydia put her in a match-play situation again,” said David Leadbetter, Pettersen’s swing coach. “It was like Suzann was back in the Solheim Cup all over again. You put Suzann in that element, she’s going to thrive.”
That’s back-to-back LPGA titles now for Pettersen, three this season. That’s another major to go with her first, the ’07 LPGA Championship.
Pettersen’s hot, on a climb she’s eager to take all the way to No. 1 in the Rolex world rankings. Sunday’s victory came with enough points to bump Pettersen up a spot and over Stacy Lewis to No. 2, according to LPGA projections.
Inbee Park holds the top spot, that No. 1 ranking just about the only achievement that’s eluded Pettersen. This No. 2 thing is an all too familiar spot for Pettersen. Park is the fourth No. 1 that Pettersen has found herself behind.
“I think this is just a part of the process,” Pettersen said. “You got to win tournaments. You got to win majors. With that in mind, this feels pretty natural. If that's where I want to go, I got to get used to the feel of winning tournaments and delivering under pressure.”
The end of this season sets up well for Pettersen. After two weeks off, she heads to the LPGA’s Asian swing. Pettersen feasts on the Asian swing. She has won four LPGA titles there and been a factor in countless more.
“Hopefully, this can kick-start my action towards No. 1,” Pettersen said. “Inbee kicked off a pretty fantastic year winning this tournament last year. Hopefully, I can feed off that and do the same.”
Park might be as responsible for Pettersen’s hot run as anyone.
At the U.S. Women’s Open this summer, Pettersen was paired with No. 1 Park in the first two rounds. Park put on a putting clinic, defeating and demoralizing No. 2 Lewis and No. 3 Pettersen on her way to winning her third consecutive major. Park beat Pettersen by a whopping 19 shots over their first two days playing together.
Pettersen missed the cut, and she left Sebonack smarting with the knowledge she needed to become a better putter to catch Park.
“Inbee holed everything, and Suzann holed nothing,” Leadbetter said. “She was like, `Well, we’ve got to change something.’”
So after the U.S. Women’s Open, Pettersen re-evaluated her approach to practice.
“That was almost a wake-up call for me,” Pettersen said. “I had to see where the hurdle was. I had to look at my game. It was a question of being honest. I couldn't lie. For me, it was definitely the putting. It's been a part I've been trying to improve, and it's nice when it pays off that quickly.”
After the U.S. Women’s Open, Pettersen huddled with Leadbetter’s wife, Kelly, a putting specialist. Pettersen put more of a focus on putting than she ever has.
“She’s working harder at it,” Leadbetter said. “She has changed her practice regimen to where she’s spending a lot more time on her putting. She never really had a regimen for her putting. It was always a sort of secondary thing.”
Pettersen’s mother, Mona, beamed with pride watching her daughter draped in a Norwegian flag accepting the Evian trophy. She wasn’t surprised her daughter turned her putting around so quickly.
“She’s always been so determined,” Mona said. “When she gets her mind on something, there’s no stopping her. There’s no giving up.”
In Sunday’s back-nine duel with Pettersen, Ko was a match for Pettersen’s ball striking. They kept one-upping each other knocking down flagsticks. Pettersen, though, beat Ko with her putter.
“She was putting great,” Ko said. “I didn’t feel that confident with my putting.”
At the third hole, Ko stuck her approach to 3 feet. Pettersen nearly holed her approach out, sticking her shot to 3 inches. At the 14th, Pettersen got up and down with a difficult bunker shot in a vital save at the 14th. At the 16th, Pettersen stuck her approach to 7 feet and Ko answered sticking hers to 5 feet but couldn’t convert to narrow Pettersen’s two-shot lead. At the 17th, Pettersen hit her ball into the trees and had to pitch out, but she got up and down from 100 yards out. Ko couldn’t convert a 12-foot birdie chance.
At the 18th, a dangerous finishing hole, Pettersen striped a hybrid to the middle of the green to seal her victory.
Pettersen’s game looked as well rounded as it ever has.