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Pettersen fit and focused on being the best

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CROMWELL, CT - JUNE 26: Hunter Mahan plays his shot from the 12th tee during the second round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands on June 26, 2015 in Cromwell, Connecticut. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)  - 

Suzann Pettersen moved into early position Thursday to reach Rolex world No. 1 for the first time in her career, but she quickly deflected that speculation with a surprising take on how she actually measures her game.

With a 6-under-par 66 in her first start of 2014, Pettersen took the first-round lead at the Women’s Australian Open. A win or a solo second at Victoria Golf Club will move her to No. 1 in the world rankings for the first time in her career.

Pettersen, however, told reporters Down Under that she isn’t really looking at the Rolex rankings as a refelction of her development.

“I just want to see how far I can get, and I don't really measure myself up against other players,” Pettersen said. “They're just my competitors. I measure my game – always have – towards the guys. I think I have the most to learn from them. So, it's really trying to take baby steps to get better every day. I’m not going to finish this game before I feel like I've reached my potential.”

Pettersen said she studies the games of the men’s best players.

“I think the guys are more creative with the golf ball,” Pettersen said. “They hit more shots, that's kind of how I play. I don't just kind of hit a straight shot, I usually work the ball towards certain pins, and I just feel like I learn a lot from watching the best male golfers play, even just watching them on telly. You can see kind of how they're using their different shot making to attack certain pins. Some girls, I think, do that, but not as many as the guys. I've been fortunate enough to play and practice with the best guys in the world and learn a lot.”

Pettersen, 32, is teeing it up this week for the first time since the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders nearly three months ago. She’s a fitness fanatic, and she spent her offseason intensely hitting the gym.

“Being strong, being fit, it's actually complementing my swing,” Pettersen said. “I've always liked to work out and in the winter you have a little more time. At one point, I thought I had almost overdone it, but I'm feeling good, feeling energized. It’s complementing what I'm trying to achieve with my swing, trying to get more speed, so more explosive.”

Pettersen said her fitness regimen this offseason showed in her ’14 debut. She said she’s hitting the ball longer, thanks to that work in the gym and some spec changes with her driver, changing shafts and adding loft.

“I’m actually hitting it further with the driver, which is nice,” Pettersen said. “I have an extra gear if I really want to.”

While Pettersen cleverly downplays her bid to reach No. 1 for the first time, don’t be misled. She aches for that top ranking but knows wanting it too much hasn’t necessarily been good for her game in the past, and so she intentionally sets her focus elsewhere. She had a chance to reach No. 1 in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders late last year and said coming up short wasn’t a bad thing because it motivated her in the offseason.