Pettersson claims RBC Canadian Open

TORONTO – The party started for Carl Pettersson before he even made the cut at the RBC Canadian Open. Little did he know it would continue right through the weekend.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I still can’t believe I won the tournament.”

Pettersson’s path to victory started on Friday night when he made a 10-foot par putt at No. 18. He was well back of the lead at that point and headed to the clubhouse at St. George’s Golf and Country Club unsure if he’d be booking a flight home.

“I walked in the locker-room and Jay Williamson had all the (cut) scenarios written out, and he’s like, `Grab a beer,”‘ said Pettersson. “Before you know it, I’d had seven beers. Made the cut. And my caddie had to drive me home.”

The next morning he got in contention by shooting a course-record 60 — narrowly missing a 30-foot birdie putt for a 59 — and on Sunday afternoon he pulled out a one-shot victory over Dean Wilson by closing with a 67.

Even that seemed unlikely early in the final round when Wilson held a four-shot lead. But Pettersson turned the heat up with consecutive birdies from Nos. 13-15 and held on for his fourth career PGA Tour win and a first-place cheque of US$918,000.

“You know, if you would have asked me Thursday if I was going to win, I would have laughed at you,” he said. “I’d probably have thought: `Have you been drinking seven beers or what?”‘

It was a crushing loss for Wilson, who got into the $5.1-million tournament on a late sponsor’s exemption and had the chance to secure his tour card for the next two years with a win.

The 40-year-old had been struggling with his game and earned his best finish since winning the 2006 International. Wilson now shares something in common with former college roommate Mike Weir, who finished second at the 2004 Canadian Open after getting beat in a playoff by Vijay Singh.

“He’s always cheering for me,” Wilson said of Weir. “I got a text from him, he told me: `Go get them.’ I’m a little disappointed I didn’t do it. But you know, I’m not as disappointed as when he didn’t win it in 2004.

“There was a tear in my eye (that day) — I was really cheering for him and I was out there.”

The low Canadian this week was Adam Hadwin, who finished off his first PGA Tour event in style by hitting an approach within inches at the 72nd hole. He shot 71 to tie for 37th.

The 22-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., was happy to have justified the exemption he earned through the Canadian Tour’s money list.

“I just wanted to come in and play well and represent Canada and show that the Canadian Tour really does deserve these exemptions and show them that we can play at this higher stage,” said Hadwin. “It was fantastic. A great week.”

The sun came out and wind picked up on the final day at St. George’s, making it tougher than it had been earlier in the week. It was the only round during the tournament where the field averaged over par.

“There was definitely more wind and (it was coming from) a slightly different direction,” said Luke Donald, who shot 66 and finished third. “It made it play a little bit different. I think it made the par-5s a little bit longer. Probably not quite as many scoring opportunities.”

Wilson’s grip on the lead started to slip at the 12th hole, where he left a chip short and made bogey. He did the same thing on No. 14 — falling one stroke behind when Pettersson made a 25-footer for birdie.

He never quite recovered.

“I paid the price,” said Wilson. “When you get it in that rough, it’s just really tough to judge chipping what it’s going to do out of there. Carl had a good shot in there and rolled in a 25- or 30-footer, so it was a big swing.”

Pettersson is a more accomplished player than the last two champions of the tournament — Chez Reavie (2008) and Nathan Green (2009) — but was still a longshot. He entered the week as the 207th-ranked golfer in the world and beat a field that featured eight players inside the top 30.

The portly 32-year-old has travelled an interesting road. Born in Sweden, his family moved to England before eventually settling in North Carolina when he was about 15 — where he continues to live today.

He developed into one of the tour’s more consistent performers until seeing his game decline a year ago after losing 30 pounds.

“I guess the timing of the swing and everything was thrown out,” he said. “I’d love to be fitter, but I’m not going to go down that road again.”

Pettersson has decided to do things his own way. He couldn’t help but get a little emotional after sinking a putt on Sunday to pull out the most unlikely of victories.

“Last year my game left me,” said Pettersson. “You start to question yourself: `Am I good enough to play? Am I ever going to win again?’ I was feeling it coming up the last hole.

“This is the most important win for me.”

Notes:Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont., shot 72 and was 48th while Calgary’s Stephen Ames had a 70 and was 59th … Pettersson was one of the players who came back on the Canadian Open charter from the British Open in 2007 and didn’t play in the tournament. He’s entered every year since … Longtime Toronto Star columnist Dave Perkins was honoured by Golf Canada in the media centre after the tournament. He’s due to retire next week.

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