2006: PGA - Off the bubble

Dublin, Ohio

Nine months ago, Carl Pettersson was a man on the outside looking in, sitting on the wrong side of the top 150 bubble on the PGA Tour’s money list as Labor Day approached and the homestretch of a long season beckoned.

“It’s a one-year contract,” he said then in describing his life as a member of the Tour, “and if you don’t perform, you’re out. But I like it that way.”

He turned his season around in a hurry, with six top-20 finishes in his last eight starts, winning the Chrysler Championship in October and nearly winning again at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic. Sunday at the esteemed Memorial Tournament, the bonuses kept rolling in.

Following a steady, if not spectacular, closing 1-under 71, victory was Pettersson’s once again, and this time, waiting to shake his hand as he ambled off the 18th green was legend Jack Nicklaus.

Best of all, Pettersson had a well-deserved day off on Monday instead of grinding through U.S. Open qualifying. His triumph vaulted him into not only the Open at Winged Foot, but July’s British Open as well.

“I wasn’t thinking about that at all,” Pettersson said after his 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 had started his week 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.

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 does’t much care for hockey. He lives in North Carolina – he finished high school there before attending North Carolina State – 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.

Last week’s Memorial had a vastly different look and feel to it. For the first time, Nicklaus was not in the field, and neither was world No. 1 Tiger Woods, still taking time off after the May 3 passing of his father, Earl.

Pettersson overcame rainy conditions at Muirfield Village to finish at 12-under 276, earning $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 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, setting up one last birdie and a hard-earned 70.

It was a good start to Mickelson’s three-week run that will take him to Winged Foot, where he will try to win his third consecutive major.

Pettersson was steady down the stretch, as he was at Innisbrook near Tampa last fall when he was impressive in his first win.

That victory helped Pettersson climb into the top 40 on the 2005 earnings list toward season’s end, getting him into the Masters.

In nine months, he has covered a good deal of ground.

Best of all, he got an audience with Nicklaus.

“This is a dream come true to even play in this tournament, let alone win it,” Pettersson said. “It’s a great field, great golf course and a great host.

“What more can you ask for?”

– Staff and wire reports

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