Carl Pettersson secures two shot win
Sunday at the Memorial felt like a series of bonuses to Carl Pettersson.
First came a scary, downhill chip from 25 feet out of the rough on the par-5 11th hole that had bogey written all over it until Pettersson knocked it in for birdie to restore his three-shot lead. The victory was sweet because tournament host Jack Nicklaus was waiting to shake his hand when he walked off the 18th green.
And when it was over, Pettersson was awarded a day off Monday instead of grinding through U.S. Open qualifying.
"I wasn't thinking about that at all," Pettersson said after closing with a 1-under 71 for a two-shot victory over Brett Wetterich and Zach Johnson. "I was just trying to get the job done on the back nine. To win it is just phenomenal."
The 28-year-old Swede earned a small measure of redemption.
Pettersson was No. 51 in the world ranking, missing by one-hundredth of a point getting into the top 50 and earning an exemption into the U.S. Open. He had planned to go through a 36-hole qualifier the day after the Memorial, but his second victory over the last 12 months was enough to get him to Winged Foot.
Nicklaus didn't know much about Pettersson, who doesn't meet any stereotypes. He was born in Sweden, but wears traditional golf clothes, rarely passes up a meal and doesn't much care for hockey. He lives in North Carolina and doesn't pay attention to NASCAR.
During his interview, Nicklaus asked him questions about where he lived and how he met his wife.
As for the golf? That looked all too familiar to the Golden Bear.
"Your winner played the best golf, and that's what it boils down to," Nicklaus said.
Pettersson finished at 12-under 276 and earned $1.035 million. Along with the great wedge work and big putts, he was 7-of-9 in sand saves around the green, and hit only one fairway bunker the whole week, crucial at a tournament that experimented with gap-tooth rakes that left furrows in the sand.
Johnson (70) and Wetterich (67) tied for second and picked up valuable Ryder Cup points, moving them to sixth and seventh, respectively, in the U.S. standings.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson took himself out of the hunt with bogeys on his first two holes, although he kept the gallery entertained through the final round with seven birdies, none more spectacular than the final few holes. From a buried lie in the slope of the bunker on the 16th, he holed out for birdie. And from a fairway bunker on the 18th, he hit a high fade that spun within 3 feet for a birdie and a hard-earned 70.
It was a good start to his three-week run that takes him to Winged Foot, where he will try to win his third straight major.
Pettersson, who won the Chrysler Championship in Tampa last October, became the second straight winner of the Memorial to earn a trip to the U.S. Open. Bart Bryant's victory last year also was his second in the last year.
All that was missing was the suspense. With a tough flop shot from deep rough over a bunker and onto the green at the par-5 15th, Pettersson set himself up for a 15-foot birdie that built his margin to three shots. From there, he played smartly to the middle of the greens until finally running into trouble on the 18th.
His lie was so bad that he removed his glove and placed it in the grass so he wouldn't lose his ball. Even after hacking out and then watching his wedge spin off the green, he could have three-putted and still won.
Along with getting into the U.S. Open, Pettersson will easily move into the top 50 and become eligible for the British Open.
For Wetterich, it was another strong performance after his inaugural PGA Tour victory last month in the Byron Nelson Championship.
"The past six weeks, it seems like everything has fallen into place for me," he said. "I just hope that ride continues."
Pettersson extended his lead to two shots when he returned Sunday morning in the third round with two shots that were a good omen for the final round. One was his 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th, the other a wonderful chip to save par on the 18th that was in grass so thick he could barely see his ball.
For those who missed it so early in the morning, Pettersson delivered an encore.
Keeping his distance with pars, Pettersson ran in a 20-foot birdie putt up the ridge on the par-3 fourth for birdie, and made a 25-foot birdie putt two holes later. He led by as many as three and never fewer than two over the front nine, although there were enough signs that he would be tested down the stretch.
First came the 10th and a weak fade into the fairway bunker that forced him to lay up. He tried to take too much off a sand wedge and came up short into another bunker, threatening his lead. But he blasted out to 3 feet and escaped with bogey.
Another bogey loomed on the par-5 11th when Pettersson went after a back pin and wound up in rough behind the green. With the green running away from him, he popped it out perfectly, bounced his knees as it trickled to the hole and pumped his fist when it dropped for a birdie not even he expected.
The margin was back to three, and the only thing that stopped Pettersson was a 30-minute delay for the weather.
Pettersson was steady down the stretch, as he was at Innisbrook last fall when he was impressive with a wedge around the green and that broom putter in his hands to win for the first time.
That victory helped Pettersson get into the Masters. This one allowed him to head home Sunday night to see his family instead of sweating out 36 holes to try to qualify for the U.S. Open. Best of all, he got an audience with Nicklaus.
"This is a dream come true to even play in this tournament," Pettersson said.