NAPLES, Fla. – Suzann Pettersen wasn't the least bit worried that it took her eight months into the LPGA Tour season before she finally won, saying on the eve of the season-ending Titleholders that "it takes some time to get this machine going."
The engine was purring Thursday at TwinEagles, where Pettersen birdied two of her last three holes for a 6-under 66. That gave her a share of the lead with So Yeon Ryu, who already has clinched rookie of the year, and Sun Young Yoo.
Yoo had a five-shot lead until giving up three shots on the last two holes with a pair of three-putts, one of them a double bogey on the par-3 eighth when her tee shot went long and down a steep slope at the back of the green.
Stacy Lewis, the LPGA player of the year, needs to win the Titleholders to have any chance of winning the money title. She was within two shots of the lead after an eagle on the par-5 13th, but the 27-year-old American dropped two shots coming in and had to settle for a 70.
Pettersen went 20 tournaments to start the year without a win until she broke through with back-to-back victories in Asia. She's playing as if she doesn't want the season to end, even though she already has one eye toward next season. She can't win player of the year, the money title or even the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average. Pettersen might have to settle for being the hottest player in women's golf.
"I still feel like I have the best golf ahead of me," she said. "I'm not too worried if it's season 2012 or season 2013. My big goal now is to prepare and be well for 2013 and hopefully come out strong the way I finish, and hopefully get another three rounds together and see where that takes me for this tournament."
She played in the same group with Cristie Kerr, whose win last week in Mexico was her first in two years. Kerr opened with a 67 and was one shot behind, along with U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi.
"I played awesome last week and carried that into this week," Kerr said.
It was a long walk with a lot of rides at the TwinEagles Club, which winds through residential neighborhoods where several homes are under construction. Players had to ride in carts from green to tee on about half the holes, which was the easy part. The test came on the expansive greens, some shaped like boxes, others like crescent rolls.
The warm weather and only a gentle breeze allowed for good scores, with 48 players at par or better among the 73 in the field. There were a few exceptions, starting with Michelle Wie. She was wild with her first tee shot, and it finally caught up to her on the back nine. Wie had an 81.
Yani Tseng's struggles returned. After winning three times in her first four tournaments, the No. 1 player in the women's world ranking tapered off in a big way, and she didn't look capable of turning that around in the final event of the year. Tseng opened with a 75.
Pettersen suddenly looks unstoppable.
"We play the game to win, don't we?" she said. "I'm in it to win. That stays it all. I feel like my shoulders are fairly freed up after winning two in Asia. I don't feel like I really have to go out and do anything. That makes the game that much easier."
Her biggest thrill Thursday was beating Kerr, with whom she has a friendly rivalry. They matched birdies on three holes until Pettersen got her at the end.
"I just tried to birdie the last so I didn't have to be paired with her tomorrow," Pettersen said. "We're competitive. I know she probably wants to have the low round in the group. You just know it's going to annoy her when you kind of take it right at the end there. But we had a good day."
Lewis and Ryu are gearing up for the awards dinner Friday night, with both having to give a speech — Lewis as the player of the year, Ryu as the top rookie. Ryu won the U.S. Women's Open last year, but she was not an LPGA member.
Yoo won a major this year, even if the runner-up was far more memorable. That was the Kraft Nabisco Championship, when I.K. Kim had a 12-inch putt to win at Rancho Mirage and missed it, and then lost to Yoo in the playoff.
This time, the stunning finish belonged to Yoo. She was on the verge of building a big lead until her 4-iron over the green, a fat chip that barely got onto the green and three putts for a double bogey. She compounded that with another three-putt on the ninth, which brought her back to the field.
"I hit the ball great all day, but I'm a little disappointed how I finished the last couple of holes," Yoo said. "But still, 6 under was a good score. ... I still have 54 holes to play, so I feel good."