Rolex Rankings No. 6 Suzann Pettersen managed to hold off a red-hot Lizette Salas in Sunday’s final round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf, making par on the first hole of a playoff to capture her 17th career victory. Pettersen shot a 5-under 67 on the final day of play but needed every single birdie, as Salas tied the lowest score to par this season with a 10-under 62 to finish tied with Pettersen at 19-under-par.
“I played very solid today,” Pttersen said. “Obviously a little easier conditions, so I just tried to stick with my own game plan, didn't really look behind me. I looked at one scoreboard, I think that was on 8, and I saw people were still making a lot of birdies, I said let's still keep this going. Made one errant tee shot, cost me ‑‑ I managed to get a bogey. But other than that I putted great, another round with somewhere about 27 putts, so at least the hurdle that's been ‑‑ that I've been fighting before, it's kind of letting go now, and that's how you win tournaments.”
Pettersen began the day with a one-shot lead over the field but it was Salas, who started the day five shots back, who made the big run to catch up to the third-round leader. On a day when the winds were relatively calm at Ko Olina Golf Club in Hawaii, players took advantage of the great scoring conditions. None more so than Salas who shot 33-29 and nearly sank another birdie putt on 18 that would have tied her with Pettersen, who had one hole remaining.
Still Salas would get another shot at a victory when Pettersen, who missed the fairway on 18, made bogey on her final hole to drop her back into a tie at 19-under-par. For Salas, it marked her first career playoff on the LPGA Tour while Pettersen was playing in her seventh, having gone 4-2 in her previous six playoff experiences.
The playoff would once again go Pettersen’s way. After Pettersen hit her approach shot on the green on the 18th in the playoff, Salas got up to hit hers and ended up chunking her iron shot into the water in front of 18. That pretty much sealed the victory for Pettersen, who said afterward that she was impressed by the play of the 23-year-old University of Southern California graduate.
“I'm like, oh, my God, where did she start this day because I didn't remember seeing her next to my name on the list yesterday,” Pettersen said of seeing Salas at 18-under after she made a birdie of her own on 15. “She's a tough cookie. She's been playing fantastic. She's just got to keep putting herself in this position, and she'll get her win.”
Despite the difficult finish for Salas in the playoff, she certainly provided plenty of entertainment in the final round as she put on a golfing clinic while chasing down Pettersen. After making birdie on two of her first three holes, Salas caught on fire over her last 11 holes. She went birdie, birdie, eagle on holes No. 8-10 and finished that stretch by holing out for eagle on her second shot from 169 yards with a 6-iron. After a par on No. 11, Salas went on to birdie five straight holes to put the pressure on Pettersen.
Pettersen hit a roadbump on the par-5 13th when a truck sounded in the middle of her backswing and her drive ended up bouncing off the cart path. She was forced to take a provisional for the lost ball and was sitting in the fairway in three. Pettersen rebounded to make bogey on the hole to keep a one-shot lead but it turned into a back-and-forth battle from there with Salas ase the two players exchanged birdies over the next few holes. That is until Pettersen’s bogey on 18 forced the playoff and unfortunately for Salas, she couldn’t duplicate the magic of her round in the playoff.
“The playoff, I can't really say much just because the swing was so fast,” Salas said. “The only good thing about that chunk is that I was coming in from the inside playing wise, not the outside, which I've been working on. Chunk is not bad, but if you have water it's really bad. But I still had a chance, and that putt didn't go in. Not everything is going to fall, but I played my butt off today.
Inbee Park shot a final-round 67 to finish in a tie for fourth at 13-under-par and secure her No. 1 ranking for at least another week. Stacy Lewis, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, couldn’t make up enough ground to try and regain the No. 1 position as she shot a 1-under 71 to finish in a tie for ninth at 10-under.
Closing it out? Suzann Pettersen (@suzannpettersen) has overcome a number of things in her career to be successful including back injuries and some various slumps in her game. The latest hurdle she’s struggled with, she said, has been her inconsistent putting. So this week in Hawaii, the Oslo, Norway native made a change in how she was putting and went back to something she did in 2007 – putt with her eyes closed.
“I wouldn't say I've never been a good putter because I've had a lot of clutch putts that I've made throughout my career” Pettersen said. “I've been feeling it's been inconsistent. The good days are fantastic, the average days are not good enough. I've been trying out a few different things to see if it would bring out a more natural kind of feel for me, and I keep kind of going back to how I used to putt growing up. I've been putting with my eyes closed all week.
“It's just something I did a lot in 2007. I practiced a lot with it. Back then I was like, why not bring it to the golf course. I have a lot better feel. I don't really try to steer the putt. I kind of visualize everything in my head. I visualize the line that I've read the ball, the speed ‑‑ I've read it, and that's it. And it's kind of very release and feel because I'm just letting it happen.
SUZANN PETTERSEN, Rolex Rankings No. 6
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the 2013 LPGA Lotte Championship winner Suzann Pettersen to the interview room. Congratulations. What a display of golf out there today between you and Lizette, quite a battle down there to finish the back nine and then a playoff to win. Take me through the day.
SUZANN PETTERSEN: Well, before I teed it off I said to Brian, let's get to 20. I thought 20 was going to do it. That would take a fantastic round from anyone behind me, and it would take some good golf from me, but that was kind of the number I was shooting for.
Played very solid today. Obviously a little easier conditions, so I just tried to stick with my own game plan, didn't really look behind me. I looked at one scoreboard, I think that was on 8, and I saw people were still making a lot of birdies, I said let's still keep this going. Made one errant tee shot, cost me ‑‑ I managed to get a bogey. But other than that I putted great, another round with somewhere about 27 putts, so at least the hurdle that's been ‑‑ that I've been fighting before, it's kind of letting go now, and that's how you win tournaments.
Q. When you were going on that back nine and you saw what Lizette was doing, she birdied a stretch of five straight holes, how aware were you looking at the leaderboards? Were you aware of what she was doing at the time?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: I didn't really ‑‑ like I said, she was right ahead of me but I didn't really pay attention. I had more than enough to try and keep track of my own game, my own shots. I birdied 15, and then I think I was aware that she was like 18‑under. So I mean, she wasn't going anywhere, and I'm like, oh, my God, where did she start this day because I didn't remember seeing her next to my name on the list yesterday. She's a tough cookie. She's been playing fantastic. She's just got to keep putting herself in this position, and she'll get her win.
Coming down 18 with a one‑shot lead and I missed the fairway, I didn't have the best of lies. I kind of hit it to where I thought I would have to and really tried to get up‑and‑down. Hit a good putt.
And playing the playoff hole, I don't know, I felt pretty comfortable, had a pretty comfortable yardage, and yeah.
Q. You talked about the one errant tee shot. Watching it on television it sounded like there was some sort of sound in your backswing. Was there something that affected you on that drive?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: Oh, I mean, I heard it. It was a truck. It felt like it was right on top of me.
But no, I mean, it was a little bit of an errant tee shot, a little bit unlucky for that to hit and bounce on the cart path, otherwise it would be in the rough and I would play the hole as a three‑shot hole and maybe get a birdie at least or par. But I made a good birdie attempt after the lie I had in the first cut. I really just tried to have a short memory there and just forget about it as quick as I could. I knew coming in I would have some shorter holes that I could somehow attack, and every time I was on the green today inside 10 feet, I felt like I had ‑‑ I felt good with my putter. I made a lot of great putts coming down the stretch, and that's a very nice feel.
Q. We joked last year in the back‑to‑back wins in Asia how comfortable you are playing in Asia. Did it seem like you were playing in Asia this week?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: I played with Ai today and the crowd was pretty Asian. Pretty dominant of Asians.
I don't know, I mean, my game has been feeling great. It's nice that I have kept kind of the progress that I had from Kraft. It's always kind of a ‑‑ the air kind of goes out of the balloon once you finish the first major because it's been such a massive buildup and you fight to the very bitter end, and you go through some emotions. And the first couple days you're a bit empty and then you kind of ‑‑ it was pretty much straight back to work.
Again, it was very kind of obvious that I didn't do well enough at Kraft and what I had to do better. It's nice that the adjustments I've done with my putting is working, and just very happy to get my first win of the year on the LPGA. It's probably one of the earliest ones I've ever had, two wins before April. That's big for me.
Q. When you talk about your demeanor changing, you talked this week about how much happier you are on the golf course, you changed caddies, but how different do you feel right now out there in terms of we even saw you laughing it off a little bit after that bogey.
SUZANN PETTERSEN: Yeah. I don't know, it's like you get older, you get smarter. I've kind of figured out how I play well, and I play well when I stay aggressive. I hate to play defensive and I hate to play away from the pins, and obviously at times you have to. That's when the experience comes in. But for me to shy away and not step on the pedal, that's not me. If I make an error being too aggressive, I can live with it. But if I make an error playing defensive trying to protect something, I mean, I wouldn't shoot myself, but it's hard for me to accept it.
So that's pretty much the game plan I'm playing off. And yeah, I mean, like I said yesterday, I still feel like I have the best ahead of me, and it's nice that you come down the stretch, you're able to just block everything out and just really just you and the ball and try making it.
Q. Was there any point, particularly today but at any time this week, when you felt like it was getting away from you at all?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: Not really. It felt like I executed four good rounds under very different conditions. I've been feeling good with my putter, so I said to myself, you know what, you might make a few errors but you're going to have plenty of opportunities to make birdies. There's shots out there I definitely don't feel comfortable, but that's when you really dig deep and you work mentally and you stay within yourself. Just really glad I managed to pull this off because I feel like I've been leading this tournament since day one pretty much except for Ariya Jutanugarn shooting 8‑under on the first day. But it was just nice to stay on top of it, stay ahead of the game and never really looking back.
Q. You talked a little earlier about a hurdle for you. Can you kind of just define what you mean from that?
SUZANN PETTERSEN: Well, I mean, I wouldn't say I've never been a good putter because I've had a lot of clutch putts that I've made throughout my career. I've been feeling it's been inconsistent. The good days are fantastic, the average days are not good enough. I've been trying out a few different things to see if it would bring out a more natural kind of feel for me, and I keep kind of going back to how I used to putt growing up. I've been putting with my eyes closed all week. It's just something I did a lot in 2007. I practiced a lot with it. Back then I was like, why not bring it to the golf course. I have a lot better feel. I don't really try to steer the putt. I kind of visualize everything in my head. I visualize the line that I've read the ball, the speed ‑‑ I've read it, and that's it. And it's kind of very release and feel because I'm just letting it happen.
Coming down the stretch today, I mean, it's very tempting to try and keep your eyes open to see if you can make it, but it doesn't make a change. I've just got to let it go. I'm just really trying to put a nice roll on the ball, and once that ball has left the face there's nothing I can do. So it just frees me up, it takes away what I say is usually a control factor that it's less controlling in a way which for me is a good way.
LIZETTE SALAS, Rolex Rankings No. 37
Q. First off, just take me through that 62 out there today. I mean, what a hot start, two birdies in your first three holes and then that stretch of birdie birdie eagle.
LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, I just I was trying to score on the par 5s. That was my main goal today. I had been struggling a little bit throughout this week. You know, just starting off strong was a goal of mine, and being five shots back I knew I had to get to a good start. After I made a silly bogey on a par 5, that just got me fired up, and I birdied 8 and 9 and eagled 10, which was probably the best swing of the week obviously. You know, just that kept the momentum going for 12, 13, 14, all those birdies I made.
I was just trying to see the putt go in. I wasn't trying to force it. That's the whole reason why I went to the short putter is because with the anchored one I felt like I was restricted. I couldn't see the ball go in. You know, just the putter felt so amazing today.
And although I wasn't hitting it amazing, about a foot, two feet, I was making putts left and right. I played smart, and just really wanted to make the birdie on 18 because I knew I was tied for the lead, and Nancy has been teaching me how to look at a leaderboard and everything. So looked at it, and I knew I had to make it, and I put a solid stroke on it. It's not like I moved or I did anything mechanically, it just didn't go in.
You know, just 18 or the playoff, I can't really say much just because the swing was so fast. The only good thing about that chunk is that I was coming in from the inside playing wise, not the outside, which I've been working on. Chunk is not bad, but if you have water it's really bad. But I still had a chance, and that putt didn't go in. Not everything is going to fall, but I played my butt off today.
Someone wrote that I lack a punch, and I had plenty of punches out there today and just yeah, I'm disappointed or I'm sad just because I wanted to win for my dad, I wanted to win for me. I had a lot of people rooting for me. But I have to look at the bright side, and there's a lot of golf left to play this year, so we'll see.
Q. We talked about everything you learned from what happened at Kraft, and to be able to bounce back in the way that you did this week, to put together a final round like you did today, how many positives can you really take from this week, what you were able to showcase?
LIZETTE SALAS: Too many positives, from shooting a 79 at Kraft to shooting a 62 here in Hawai'i, like that just I can't really describe the feeling, just I feel so proud of myself to put that 79 in the back of my mind and just to go out and play some golf. I took a big risk in using the short putter, but I felt extremely comfortable. I felt like me again.
My mom is here, everyone has been pulling for me, and I just baby steps. I've got to just keep working on the things I'm working on, and the good thing is I'm going home tonight to see my family tomorrow for a day, and I'm sure they're very proud of me.
Q. When you talk about personality wise, how much does this showcase the kind of fighter that you are, the kind of personality that you have when you look at people said you lacked a punch and you showed them the punch?
LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, definitely, just from growing up and having people telling me that I couldn't do it or in college that I wasn't going to be a successful college player, I've had so many bad things said about me not bad but negative or they didn't believe in me, and that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my family is very close to me and they believe in me and my coaches do, and so I just want to win. I don't play here just to travel the world. I'm here to win championships and I'm here to change the world of golf.
So if people have something bad to say, then they can say it to me. I'll gladly take criticism. But that's not going to stop me from achieving my goals. I'm here to fight, and that's why I went to USC, we fight on.
Q. I heard Nancy Lopez is a mentor of yours?
LIZETTE SALAS: She's a mentor of mine, yes.
Q. Can you expound on that a little bit, what she's meant for your game?
LIZETTE SALAS: We met about a year ago, and she's heard about me and she's heard about my background and we have similar backgrounds, similar relationships with our fathers, and she kind of just took me under her wing and would send me text messages. She came out to watch at the U.S. Open, and this year she came out to watch 18 holes at Phoenix, and so we just keep she gave me a putting lesson, how to visualize better, and she's just really teaching me about what made her so great. She's teaching me how to look at the leaderboard. She's teaching me how to bring out that fighter in me. Before I used to be scared to let it out because I wasn't sure how to manage it. But now with the experience that I'm getting and all the positive things that I've been doing, I'm very comfortable, and this won't be the last time I'll be in contention.
INBEE PARK, Rolex Rankings No. 1
Q. First off, congrats with your finish. You're going to stay No. 1 in the world. I know we talked about last week and what it meant to you, but having played your way and kept it from your play this week, how much does that give you some confidence?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, that definitely feels better than just being No. 1 in the week off. We played one week and I'm still No. 1, so I know I kind of deserve No. 1 spot now. I played very good golf this week. The first two rounds my putts didn't really fall, but round 3 and 4 it was much better. Very happy with my game at the moment and very confident.
Q. How much now ‑‑ we've talked to Stacy about it. How much does being No. 1 kind of factor into your head? Do you think about it or is it something that you just kind of put in the back of your mind?
INBEE PARK: I think about it, but I try not to think about it too much. No. 1 is No. 1, but it's not like I'm there for 100 weeks or something. It's going to be only two weeks now, and I don't know, hopefully it's going to be longer, and that's what I play for. I'm just happy to play for No. 1 every week.