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Amid tragedies in Norway, Suzann Pettersen shines on the golf course

NORTH PLAINS - It has been a rough summer off the golf course for Suzann Pettersen.

On the course, it's been magic.

If only life could provide miracles such as the one the 30-year-old Norwegian forged Sunday in the LPGA Safeway Classic at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

Pettersen's comeback for the ages - from nine shots back to victory on the first playoff hole over Na Yeon Choi - had to be one of the greatest in women's pro golf history.

Yet it pales in comparison to recent tragedies that have given pause to Pettersen, who eclipsed $1.1 million in earnings this year with Sunday's title.

In July, there was the bombing and shooting that left 76 dead in her native country.

On Wednesday, two days before the Safeway Classic began, came word that close family friend Amman Hemmeie, 29, had died in a sky-diving accident.

Before the tournament, Pettersen dedicated her performance to Hemmeie's memory. It made her victory even more emotional.

'He was one of those friends you grow up with,' Petterson said. 'You have all the same friends. He just got married this spring. He left a 10-day-old son. It's way too early, but he left this place doing what he loved to do.

'It had already been a terrible summer back home. This was a stinger in everyone's heart. Feels like we can't take anymore. It makes you realize life is about more than golf. It puts things in perspective. But it might help me on the golf course.'

Pettersen meant it has made her concentrate a bit more on getting things accomplished once she tees it up.

Lady's been on a roll, for sure. In May, she won the LPGA Sybase Match Play Championship. In her last outing two weeks ago, she ruled the Irish Open on the Ladies European tour.

On Sunday, sitting nine strokes behind Choi entering the final round, the last thing on Pettersen's mind was a title.

'I never believed I had a chance,' she said. ''On the range, my caddy (Dave Brooker) goes, 'If we shoot a low one today, we might pass Cristie (Kerr) and take over the No. 2 spot in the (world) rankings.'

'Sometimes you need a trigger like that to get an extra focus, and make you want it. You feel like you're kind of out of the hunt.'

Pettersen even had her Sunday evening planned prior to an 11 p.m. red-eye bound for Quebec, site of the next LPGA event.

'I was going to go to the gym, have a nice session there, enjoy a good dinner and get on a flight to Canada,' she said.

Playing 11 groups ahead of the leaders, Pettersen churned out a 7-under-par 64. Included was an eagle on the par-5 No. 10.

'Left (the second shot) three inches short from 240 yards,' she said.

Meanwhile, Choi - nails on the greens the previous two days - was flagging.

For two hours, Pettersen sat in the clubhouse, watching the leaders on the Golf Channel. She let a chiropractor adjust her back - 'popped a few joints,' she said, in vernacular Cliff Harris could appreciate - and took over the lead when Choi bogeyed holes 9 and 13.

Choi got it back, though, taking a one-stroke advantage into the 18th hole.

All she needed was a par to win.

Maybe someone was up there, looking over Pettersen.

Choi bogeyed the 18th hole, forcing a playoff.

When she chunked her second shot into the water alongside the right side of the fairway, she was done, and Pettersen was the champion.

Poetic justice, in a way, for a woman whose exploits on the golf course have been so productive as happenings away from the sport have hit her hard.

'I won here, I won in Europe; it makes you relaxed,' she said. 'You go out with lower shoulders. You don't get upset with bad shots. It's actually quite fun.'

Doesn't make up for life's losses, of course. All you can give in the face of adversity is your best. Amman Hemmeie would have been proud.