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Looking Out for No 1

LPGA Tour _newORLANDO, Fla. – Suzann Pettersen is playing on the edge of greatness.

It’s a thrilling, maddening height to climb.

There’s the thrill in knowing she’s almost there, almost where she’s dreamed and fought to get, that she’s almost reached the game’s mountaintop.

And it’s maddening knowing that she’s not there yet, that all the hard work’s left her short, that somebody else towers over her.

That’s what it’s like arriving at the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship as the No. 2 player in the Rolex Women’s Rankings.

That’s what it’s been like going winless this year while making a hard climb with six second-place finishes.

Pettersen, 29, has alternately mesmerized and befuddled on the edge of greatness throughout her career.

Suzann Pettersen
Suzann Pettersen has six runner-up finishes in 2010. (Getty Images)
Over the last three seasons, Pettersen has one LPGA victory and 12 second-place finishes. Her ability to get herself into contention so many times mesmerizes. Her inability to win more often befuddles. The missing piece perplexes. Is it her streaky putting stroke? The ache in her hip that won’t seem to go away? Bad luck? Or something else?

“Suzann’s the consummate perfectionist,” says David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “She’s worked so hard to get better. She’s right there. She could take the tour by the scruff of the neck and win a half dozen times. She’s at the point in her career that she really wants to make things happen, and she has the ability to do it.”

Pettersen looked like she was going to take the tour by the scruff of the neck and never let go back in 2007. The tall, athletic Norwegian broke through to win her first LPGA title at the Michelob Ultra Open. A month later, she won her first major, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship. She won six events around the world that season, five of them LPGA titles.

There’s been that one LPGA victory since and the 12 runner-up finishes. She’s coming off a second-place finish in her last start at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

“I’m glad there’s one more tournament left this season,” Pettersen said after her pro-am round Wednesday at Grand Cypress Golf Club. “I’ve got some unfinished business.”

You can take that two ways. She wants to win this year, and she wants to end the year with the No. 1 world ranking. A victory will get her to No. 1 in the world for the first time.

“A win is going to shut people up,” Leadbetter said. “She would love to win this week. It would make her year.”

If Pettersen’s run of second-place finishes this season frustrates her, she conceals it well. She’ll tell you she’s more encouraged than discouraged.

“The one thing I was looking for was consistency,” Pettersen said. “I want to be there week in and week out, and I’ve achieved that. I’ve done that pretty much every tournament I’ve played this year. I’ve had my chances. I’ve knocked on the door.

“If you look at all my stats, I’m improving every year. If you look from 2007, I’ve improved my scoring by a shot overall. It feels like I’m doing my part.”

In her runner-up finish at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational three weeks ago, Pettersen closed with a 68. In-Kyung Kim beat her with a final-round 64. In the season-opener, Ai Miyazato beat Pettersen with a 64. Pettersen’s scoring average is 68.3 in the final rounds of those six second-place finishes.

“It’s not like she’s blowing or choking away these tournaments,” Leadbetter said. “She’s playing well. If there’s any slight weakness, it’s the fact that when she’s striking the ball extremely well, she hasn’t shot as low as she could have.”

Pettersen’s been playing with a nagging left hip injury since February. She doesn’t know how it developed or even what the problem is, but the ache comes and goes.

“I’m pretty sick of it,” Pettersen said. “I’ve seen a million doctors, taken a million MRI scans. They all think I’m making this up.”

Pettersen’s planning to take a long break after this week’s LPGA Tour Championship. She may even forgo skiing, her other passion, for awhile to see if rest will be the remedy.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” Leadbetter said. “Could be something genetic, could be something that’s just developed over time. She is the fittest player on tour. She approaches working out like she’s an Olympic athlete. Sometimes, she’s gone too hard.”

A victory would take the sting out of that hip for awhile. Gaining the No. 1 ranking would trump the disappointment of those second-place finishes.

“I’ve been close to No. 1 all year,” Pettersen said. “It’s more the end of the year when you want to make a statement.”

Winning this week sends a message into 2011. It alerts the golf world Pettersen may be poised to take the tour by the scruff of the neck.