GLADSTONE, N.J. — A split second after her 15-foot birdie putt curled left and disappeared into the hole on No. 18, Suzann Pettersen thrust both hands skyward in celebration and seemed to exhale in relief.
The victory drought was over.
Pettersen ended 20 months of frustration and near misses by beating Cristie Kerr 1-up to win the Sybase Match Play Championship on Sunday.
“It’s 20 months, but it doesn’t feel like 20 months,” said Pettersen, who was doused with champagne by Swedish player Anna Nordqvist after winning. “It feel like a lot longer. But like I said yesterday, I had some great tournaments except winning, and I can finally put a dot over the I, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Pettersen is familiar with the frustration of not winning. She finished second six times last year alone and 12 times since 2007, when she won five times, including her only major, the LPGA Championship.
“It boils down to winning tournaments, so if you judge your season by winning, last year was a disappointment,” said Pettersen, who had 14 top-10 finishes in 21 events in 2010.
“But at the same time, I tried to take positives from that. It was a lot better than ’09. (However), winning is what it’s about.”
Pettersen wasn’t handed this one, either. She beat Natalie Gulbis, Amy Hung, Stacy Lewis, No. 1 ranked Yani Tseng, No. 5 Na Yeon Choi and the No. 4 Kerr in winning for the seventh time on the LPGA Tour.
Pettersen had to work all the way to the end.
Leading 1-up and with Kerr facing a 10-foot birdie attempt on the par-5 18th, Pettersen curled in the left to-right 15-footer for birdie to seal the victory on the cold, damp overcast day that probably made the 30-year-old Norwegian star fell as if she was back home.
“It’s a situation you want to be when you love the pressure,” Pettersen said. “There’s nothing better than winning a match play event.”
Pettersen, who beat the top-seeded Choi 4 and 2 in the semifinals Sunday morning, never trailed in the match in winning for the first time since the Canadian Women’s Open in September 2009.
Kerr, who won the final two holes in beating Angela Stanford 1-up in the semis, had her putter to blame for failing to win for the 15th time on tour. The American missed four putts of less than 10 feet — all for hole victories.
“Putting on the back nine killed me,” Kerr said.
However, she also made a three-foot par save on No. 16 to keep the match alive and a 10-footer for birdie on the next hole to cut Pettersen’s lead to 1-up.
Pettersen ended the run and the match with her dramatic putt at the magical 18th hole. She played it four times and birdied it every time to win matches. She dispatched Gulbis in the first round, Lewis in the round of 16, Tseng in the quarter-finals and Kerr in the championship.
Pettersen earned US$375,000, and Kerr made $225,000.
Pettersen birdied the second and fourth holes to go 2-up, but Kerr tied the match with birdies at the fifth and eighth holes. Pettersen made a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 9 to take a 1-up lead.
The back nine of the championship match was both heartbreaking and ugly at times.
Kerr lipped out on a 10-footer for birdie at No. 10 and then the players halved the 11th and 12th holes with bogeys. Pettersen missed a five-foot par-saver at the 11th to win the hole and Kerr did the same at the next hole from 4 feet.
Kerr had another chance to tie the match at No. 14 but her 10-foot birdie putt burned the cup.
“The putts that I missed I hit bad putts,” said Kerr, who admitted she was physically drained after playing six matches in four days, including four this weekend. “They weren’t like mis-hits. They were shoves. They were pushed.”
Pettersen went 2-up at the par-4 15th. Kerr was right with her second shot, chipped 10 feet past the hole and then missed the par save. Pettersen then extended the lead making a 5-footer for par.
Kerr rallied but Pettersen would not be denied.
Choi, who never made it to 18 against Pettersen, shot 4 under to open a 5-up lead over Stanford in the consolation match en route to a 4-and-3 win that earned her $150,000. Stanford, who had to be disappointed after throwing away a great chance to be beat Kerr at No. 18 in the semifinal settled for $112,500.
Stanford, who finished second to Sun Young Yoo last year, is going to have nightmares about her third shot at the par-5, 515-yard 18th hole.
Kerr square the match with a short birdie at No. 17 but her third at the final hole sucked off the front of the elevated green.
Stanford hit her third shot over the green and the mistake was compounded when it landed in a downhill line with mud under the ball. The No. 18 seed, searched for a way to land the ball on the green and considered all angles before going at the pin. However, the ball came out hot and rolled down the front of the raised green, landing almost where Kerr’s third shot had stopped.
Kerr had hit her fourth to three feet, so Stanford went at the pin and the ball banged off it. Kerr then made her par putt from five feet to win the match.