2005: Pettersson, first-timers in driver’s seat

PALM HARBOR, Fla.

With the PGA Tour soon bound for the negotiating table to decide what the autumn schedule will look like in 2007, know this about the twilight days of 2005: It was a huge month for three first-time winners.

Wes Short Jr. started the run with his victory at the Michelin Championship in Las Vegas Oct. 16, and Lucas Glover, the former Clemson standout, stole victory at the Funai Classic a week later by holing an improbable 35-yard bunker shot at the 72nd hole. Sweden’s Carl Pettersson broke through for his first Tour victory at the Chrysler Championship Oct. 30 in a more conventional manner. He certainly didn’t stumble into his first win.

First came an incredible chip from a buried lie in the rough on the 15th hole that allowed him to save par and keep the lead. Then he faced a daunting tee shot on No. 16, the hardest hole at Innisbrook, with mangled rough on the left and water on the right. That’s when Pettersson found out he was capable of finally breaking through.

“I said, ‘Just step up and make a good swing. If it goes in the rough, it goes in the rough. If it goes in the water, it goes in the water. Buck up and hit a good one,’ ” said the 28-year-old Swede, who in early September was scrambling to find his way into the top 125 on the money list. “I managed to do it somehow.”

The tee shot was perfect, and he had no trouble the rest of the way until nerves set in as he two-putted from 20 feet for par on the last hole, knocking the first one 3 feet past. Pettersson closed with an even-par 71 for a one-shot victory over hard-charging Chad Campbell on a day when even some of the losers found reason to celebrate.

Campbell, who made five birdies on the back nine to make Pettersson sweat, shot 67 and earned enough money to jump from No. 43 to No. 17 on the money list, qualifying for the Tour Championship.

“I’m not happy with second,” Campbell said.

“But I’m happy the result got me in the Tour Championship.”

Charles Howell III and Tim Herron narrowly earned tickets to East Lake, too, with Herron needing help from two players – Tom Pernice Jr. making double bogey on the 17th and Steve Lowery (75) missing a birdie putt on the last hole.

Tag Ridings, whose knees shake this time of the year as he tries to keep his PGA Tour card, shot 67 to tie for third and moved from No. 126 to No. 101 on the money list, securing a job for next year.

Still, the biggest winner on a sunny, breezy afternoon at Innisbrook was Pettersson, born in Sweden and raised in North Carolina, teased by his peers as the only Swedish redneck on the PGA Tour. He finished at 9-under 275 and earned $954,000, fulfilling a dream he had as a kid of winning at the highest level.

“It was a little easier in the dreams,” Pettersson said. “It’s nice to finish it off the way I did.”

Tied with Lowery at the start of the final round, Pettersson seized control when Lowery hit four consecutive shots on the par-3 eighth before anyone else in his threesome took a swing, blading a bunker shot and eventually two-putting for a disastrous triple-bogey 6.

Even then, Pettersson showed some mettle by making a 30-foot par putt. But the best stuff came late in the day, starting with his pitch on the par-3 15th, a shot in which he had only 12 feet of green between the cup and the rough.

“I would have been happy with 10 feet,” Pettersson said.

He chipped to 3 feet for par, then saved another par with a 10-foot putt on the 16th and stayed clear of trouble the rest of the way to hold off Campbell.

Even more dynamic than the finish was the race to finish in the top 30 and get into the $6.5 million Tour Championship at East Lake. And no one sweated it out quite like Howell and Herron.

Howell, 30th on the money list at the start of the week, closed with 10 consecutive pars for an even-par 71. He then waited nearly two hours to see if that was enough. He watched the PGA Tour’s scoring system, where the money is updated with every change on the leaderboard.

Only when the last group was on the 18th did Howell realize he was in, bound for a season-ending event in which he was runner-up in 2002 and 2003.

“It was on my mind, absolutely it was,” said Howell, who finished 33rd on the money list a year ago. “I thought I had to shoot anything under par. I shot par, and that was enough. It’s a whole lot better slipping in than slipping out.”

Herron needed to make a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, and pulled it badly.

Behind him, however, Pernice took double bogey on the 17th hole, which moved Herron up the leaderboard and back into the top 30. The last threat came from Lowery, who had a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to finish alone in third. That would cost Herron $40,000 and leave him outside the top 30.

Lowery missed, and Herron was in.

“I kind of dogged that last putt,” Herron said as he drove to the airport, where he changed his flight from Mississippi (Southern Farm Bureau Classic) to Atlanta. “I knew I was close. The way my luck has been going, I figured I would miss.”

Herron missed out on the last two World Golf Championships by one spot in the rankings and money list. He closed with a 70 at Innisbrook and finished in a seven-way tie for third, making $216,164 to climb to 29th on the money list.

Glover held down the 30th spot by $13,092 over Geoff Ogilvy, who missed the cut.

– Staff and wire reports

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