Pettersen pushes lead to 7 in Thailand

Pettersen pushes lead to 7 in Thailand

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) — Suzann Pettersen gave herself some final-round breathing room – and maybe some time to savor her dominating run.

With a seven-stroke lead, the Norwegian star also likely took the suspense out of her bid for a second straight victory and third in four weeks.

Topping a tour leaderboard for the fifth straight round and eighth in the last 11, Pettersen left everyone else behind Saturday in the Honda LPGA Thailand, birdieing five of the last seven holes for a bogey-free 9-under 63.

“Like I said all week, I’m not trying to plan ahead of me,” Pettersen said. “I’m just trying to take what I have right there. I had some short birdie putts. I made some long ones. I’m just trying to play tee to green solid and take my chances. When you see it and feel it, sometimes you can just execute it, which is really nice.”

Pettersen had a 20-under 196 total. She had two-stroke advantages the first two days at Siam Country Club, opening with rounds of 65 and 68 on the Pattaya Old Course.

“I have to go out and do my job tomorrow,” Pettersen said. “It was nice I could actually extend my lead with people pushing me, shooting 66. Tomorrow’s not going to be that easy. I have to shoot low. It would be nice to get a career low after four rounds. But, I have to go out there tomorrow and play really good, and I will.

English Solheim Cup teammate Laura Davies was second, a stroke ahead of American Paula Creamer. Davies and Creamer, paired together in the group ahead of Pettersen and Canadian Alena Sharp, had matching 66s. Sharp (72) was 9 under along with Australians Rachel Hetherington (68) and Katherine Hull (68).

“Six under is a good round, just not good enough this week because Suzann’s gone mad,” Davies said. “I have to shoot 9, 10 under and hope she doesn’t shoot a really low round again.”

Creamer attracted a large gallery.

“I didn’t expect to have so many fans,” Creamer said. “It’s good to have them come to support me and respect my golf, though it gives a bit of pressure because I want to play well before them.”

Annika Sorenstam shot her second straight 68 to get to 8 under. The 10-time major champion is making her first start since early September and eighth since returning from neck and back injuries. She won the last of 69 tour titles in September 2006.

American Stacy Prammanasudh (69) also was 8 under. She had a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth, using an 8-iron from 137 yards. Christina Kim (71, 2 over) also aced it.

Defending champion Hee-Won Han, making her first start since the birth of her first child this summer, was 5 under after a 72. She won last year at Amata Spring.

Former Duke star Virada Nirapathpongporn topped the five Thai players, shooting a 70 to move into a four-way tie for 21st at 3 under. Onnarin Sattayabanphot was 2 under after a 70, and 11-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn’s 74 left her 7 over.

Pettersen birdied the par-5 first for the third straight day, made another birdie on the second, then picked up two more strokes on the front nine to make the turn at 15 under – three shots ahead of Davies.

Davies cut it to two with a birdie on the par-5 10th, but Pettersen countered with short birdie putts on Nos. 12, 13, 15, and made 20-footers on 17 and 18 to push her advantage to seven. She hit all 14 fairways and all 18 greens in regulation.

“I’m hitting drivers from every hole except 17. You still have to hit it in the fairway,” Pettersen said. “But, I’m striking the ball OK and you have little short irons into the holes. You do get some easy opportunities for birdies, but you still have to get the job done.”

Pettersen began the run three weeks ago with a playoff victory over top-ranked Lorena Ochoa in the Longs Drugs Challenge, then won the shortened event last week in South Korea for her fourth LPGA Tour victory of the season.

Pettersen also had a chance to win two weeks ago, but slipped to fifth in the Samsung after starting the final round tied for the lead with winner Ochoa.

Sidelined for eight months in 2005 by a career-threatening ruptured disk in her back, Pettersen got off to a disappointing start this year when she blew a late three-stroke lead in the Kraft Nabisco. She rebounded to win the Michelob Ultra Open in May for her first LPGA Tour title, took the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in June for her first major and returned to Norway in August to win a European tour event.

“I’m just trying to play with my feel and first instinct,” she said.

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