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Pressel proves too much to handle for her elders

Times Staff Writer

Since when does a victorious Sunday charge amount to a modest round of three-under-par 69? And is it a full-scale retreat when you’ve got a three-shot lead with four holes to go and promptly fire up a bogey, a double bogey and a bogey?

The answers were yes for Morgan Pressel, who at 18 became the youngest winner in the history of LPGA major championship competition; and also yes for Suzann Pettersen, whose quest for victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship veered erratically at the worst possible time.

Pressel rolled in a 10-foot putt to birdie the 72nd hole, then waited nearly an hour to learn whether her three-under total of 285 would be enough.

It was, but just barely, when Pettersen began knocking the ball all over Mission Hills Country Club on her way to a two-over 74.

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Playing in the fourth to the last group and trailing by four shots to start the round, Pressel faced almost no pressure. But she also made her own breaks. The teen from Boca Raton, Fla., didn’t have a bogey the last 24 holes and managed to make her first victory a major championship -- and before Michelle Wie, by the way.

“This is a dream come true,” said Pressel, who has been especially close to her grandparents since her mother, Kathy, died of breast cancer in 2003 when Pressel was 15.

She broke down when she spoke of her mother.

“I know my mother is always with me and I’m sure she’s proud of me, as my grandparents are.”

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Herb and Evelyn Krickstein are her grandparents and she is the cousin of former tennis pro Aaron Krickstein.

The youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Open at 12, Pressel turned pro 16 months ago after she tied for sixth place at the LPGA qualifying school.

Meanwhile, Pettersen aged quickly on the back nine and Pressel was properly sympathetic.

“I know those last few holes enjoy taking their toll on people and I’m lucky it wasn’t me today.”

Pettersen, a 25-year-old from Norway, idolizes Norwegian skiers and it was tough sledding almost from the instant she arrived at the 15th tee with a three-shot lead over Se Ri Pak, Catriona Matthew and Brittany Lincicome.

Her drive at the 15th sailed to the right, under some trees and she missed a 20-footer for a bogey. It got worse at the 16th, with another drive to the right rough. She clipped a branch coming out and wound up with a three-putt for double bogey that dropped her into a tie with Pressel, who was killing time on the putting green and waiting at three under.

Pressel held the lead alone moments later. At the par-three 17th, one day earlier the scene of Lorena Ochoa’s quadruple bogey, Pettersen’s seven-iron found the left rough. She chipped out to eight feet, but missed her par putt by inches on the left.

By then, Pressel headed for the range to stay loose, in case of a playoff. Pettersen had one more opportunity to catch up, but she knocked a drive into the left rough at the 18th. She laid up to 114 yards, but couldn’t get closer than 25 feet to the left of the hole and a last-chance birdie putt stopped well short.

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All that was left for Pressel was to race back to the 18th green and take a victorious leap into the pond with grandmother Evelyn and caddie Jon Yarbrough.

Pressel swam, but she probably could have walked on water.

No one shot lower than her closing 69 and no one went bogey free. Pressel also saved par three consecutive times with consecutive five-foot putts -- at Nos. 15, 16 and 17.

When she reached the tee at the 485-yard, par-five 18th, Pressel was two under and told Yarbrough she wanted to reach three under. Her third shot was a sand wedge from 108 yards and she stopped the ball 10 feet from the flagstick. She figured the slightly downhill putt would break a few inches from left to right.

“I hit a perfect putt ... at least it went in.”

Pettersen finished in a three-way tie for second place with Lincicome and Matthew. Lincicome missed a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th that would have forced a playoff.

The big names from early in the event faltered in the last round. Pak shot 77 and tied for 10th in a group that included Ochoa. Paula Creamer’s 78 dropped her from a tie for third to a tie for 15th.

It all got a little nerve-racking for Pressel as she waited to see if her score would hold up, but what’s an hour or so? She said she really doesn’t have any firm plans to celebrate her historic victory. There is one thing on her agenda, though.

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“I can tell you I’m going to go shopping as soon as I get home.”

After earning the winner’s check of $300,000, she’s going to be busy.

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

For the ages

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Youngest winners of an LPGA major:

2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship

* Morgan Pressel, 18 years, 11 months, 22 days

1968 LPGA Championship

* Sandra Post, 20 years, 19 days

1998 LPGA Championship

* Se Ri Pak, 20 years, 7 months, 19 days

1998 U.S. Women’s Open

* Se Ri Pak, 20 years, 9 months, 7 days

Source: Associated Press


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