Suzann Pettersen can slam doors.
That’s a good thing as a professional golfer.
With a final-round lead, she has proven over and over again that she knows how to close the door on a victory, but Sunday at the Manulife LPGA Classic offers the challenge anew as Sundays always do.
Opening with three consecutive birdies in a sizzling start Saturday, Pettersen rolled to a bogey-free 6-under-par 66. She’s bogey free for the entire tournament. At 19-under 197, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67) and two ahead of Cristie Kerr (67), who put herself in position to challenge with a strong finish on Saturday.
“There’s a good job to be done tomorrow,” Pettersen said.
Pettersen, 34, knows. She had a share of the lead going into the final round of the Portland Classic last year but shot 74 to finish T-16. Going into that Sunday, she had won the last five times she held a 54-hole lead. But that’s how last year went for Pettersen, with more disappointment than she’s accustomed to experiencing when a trophy is within arm’s length. Though she didn’t lead going into the final round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open and LPGA Championship last year, she was in the final Sunday pairing in both events with chances to win. She shot 75 at the British Open and 76 at the LPGA Championship.
Those are some of the frustrations Pettersen has worked to overcome getting herself in position to win her 15th LPGA title. She’s seeking her first title in 19 months. She struggled through injuries much of the last two seasons, a nagging back injury last year and a left shoulder injury earlier this year, but she seems to be regaining the health and form that helped her win five times in 2013, when she got within hundredths of a point of taking the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Pettersen’s frustrations a year ago moved her to make a significant change coming into this year. Though she had great success with her long-time swing coach David Leadbetter, she decided to switch coaches. She took up with Butch Harmon, who changed her swing, making it wider and more shallow.
“I needed a kick in the butt and some fresh energy,” Pettersen told GolfChannel.com back before season’s start.
At 34, Pettersen said the approach of golf’s return to the Olympics next year was another factor in her making a dramatic change. She’s passionate about a shot at Olympic gold.
“I felt like if I was going to do something like this, it was now or never,” she said.
Though Pettersen said she picked up Harmon’s changes quickly when they began to work together late last year, the shoulder injury at the beginning of the year slowed her work. She withdrew from the Lotte Championship and the Swinging Skirts Classic this spring with inflammation in her left shoulder. She declared herself pain free entering this week’s event.
With an important run of major championships squeezed into this summer, Pettersen knows it’s a great time to put her best game together. Next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA starts a run of three majors over an eight-week period.
But first things first. With Kerr and Uribe so close, and with birdies galore at Whistle Bear Golf Club, Sunday promises to be a shootout.
“Two feisty competitors . . . I’m excited to go back out there tomorrow and fight it to the very end,” Pettersen said.