Defending champ hoping to capture

by Ogi Overman

lighting in a bottle at Sedgefield

When Carl Pettersson abused the Sedgefield layout so thoroughly last year that it

bordered on cruel and unusual punishment, many local observers naturally assumed that he had a home-course advantage. After all, he had played his junior and senior years at Grimsley High and followed that with a stellar four-year career at North Carolina State University. Surely during that span he’d played the Donald Ross-designed course enough times to memorize it, and even after the Kris Spence redesign that brought it up to current PGA standards, his muscle memory alone would be enough to break par.

You know the old saying about “assume,” right? Turns out, Pettersson, who’d moved here from his native Sweden (via a four-year stay in England) when his dad, a Volvo executive, was transferred to the corporate headquarters in Greensboro, had played the course a total of one — count ’em, one — time before last August. Yet, by the time he’d toured the course a fifth time, he’d put himself in the record books with a 21 under par 259 (64-61-66-68) and in the process pocketed a cool $918,000 in the Wyndham Championship. More than the course, Pettersson says, it was probably the support he got from the galleries that helped account for his minuscule scoring totals. “Yes, it was nice having all the friends from high school and college here,” he said three weeks before the 2009 event, “I was definitely aware of them, and it was fun to play so well in front of them. It was a very special week.” While the galleries for the native son may have been considerable for Thursday’s and Friday’s rounds, after he’d carded an eye-popping 61 Friday to go with his first-day 64, they’d mushroomed for the weekend, easily becoming the most sizable of any pairing. With a three-stroke lead heading into Saturday, the tourney was his to lose, and even after it had been cut to two for the finale, his closing 68 was enough to maintain that margin over runner-up Scott McCarron. The win marked Pettersson’s third on the PGA Tour, with one on the European Tour which he played in 2001 and ’02 after turning pro in 2000. As special as it was, though, he admitted that it did not eclipse his second win, the 2006 triumph at the Memorial at storied Muirfield Village. “As great as it was to win in front of the home crowd, given the history of the Memorial and Jack Nicklaus’ involvement in it, that one will probably always stand out,” he said. His first PGA Tour title came at the 2005 Chrysler Championship, at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, Fla. With three tour wins and almost $12 million in earnings, after Sedgefield many observers had penciled in Pettersson’s name as one of the genuine rising stars on the circuit. But so far that has not proven to be the case. In 22 events this year, he has made only nine cuts, with his best finish a 17th in the Mercedes-Benz Championship. His world rating has dropped to 136, from a previous low of 62, and he is currently 155th in FedEx points. Ironically, Pettersson may be suffering from the law of unintended consequences. After last year he decided he needed to shed a few pounds and began hitting the gym regularly. And while he dropped 30 pounds, getting down to a svelte 190, his new buff appearance did nothing for his game. In fact, he fears it made it worse. “It kind of threw my swing off,” admitted Pettersson of his weight loss. “I started working out and eating better, but I think I took it off too quickly. Golf is such a fickle game, you know, your game can go away with no warning. Trying to get better with less weight didn’t seem to work, so now it’s back to the drawing board.” The native Swede has put some of the weight back on and has high hopes of regaining his golfing form, if not his buff physique, down the stretch of ’09. “I’m seeing some signs of it coming back,” he noted. “I’m just trying to get back to where I was last year at this time.“ The native Swede who now calls Raleigh home would love nothing better than to give himself an early birthday present this year, six days before he turns 32. “I’m hoping to get some momentum going heading into the FedEx Cup tournament,” said Pettersson. “It will be nice to come back to where you’ve had some success, to get your confidence back. My game’s not been very good this year, but I’m really looking forward to getting back here and, hopefully, getting my game back.”