PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Defending champion Suzann Pettersen looks to make tournament history as the headliner in the LPGA Portland Classic starting Thursday at Columbia-Edgewater Country Club.
The 33-year-old Norwegian hopes to join Nancy Lopez as the tournament’s only three-time champion. Pettersen won the Portland tournament in 2011 and 2013. Lopez claimed her titles in 1985, 1987 and 1992.
Pettersen rallied with a final-round 5-under 67 to defeat Stacy Lewis by two strokes in the 2013 Portland tournament.
The Portland Classic, renamed after Safeway dropped out as its title sponsor after an 18-year stint, started in 1972 and is the longest-running non-major tournament on the LPGA Tour.
Only four of the world’s top 10 players are in this year’s field, including No. 4 Pettersen and No. 5 So Yeon Ryu, who won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last week. No. 1 Stacy Lewis and No. 2 Michelle Wie, out with a finger injury, are among those skipping the Portland Classic.
Pettersen scored her Portland wins at two different courses. In 2011, it was Pumpkin Ridge, and last year at Columbia-Edgewater.
“Pumpkin Ridge, I never really liked, and this one, I never really liked either until I won,” Pettersen said, smiling. “You’ve got to drive the ball well here, and I guess in the past, it was always the straight hitters who did really well around this place.”
Last year’s Portland event kick-started a big finish to 2013 for Pettersen, who won the Safeway Classic, Evian Championship and Taiwan LPGA Championship during a two-month stretch. Pettersen hasn’t won this season, but has been close of late, posting five consecutive top-10 finishes.
“I always seem to play well in the fall,” Pettersen said. “I’m playing well, so it’s just about being patient enough to let it come. I’m hitting the ball fantastic. I’m rolling the putts better than I have.”
Joining Lopez as a three-time Portland winner “is cool. It’s nice to be in a position like that, but you don’t really want to get too ahead of yourself. But definitely a list I would be quite proud to possibly join,” she said.
While several top players are resting this week in preparation for The Evian Championship, the season’s final major Sept. 11-14, Ryu is in Portland, hoping to continue momentum she created winning the Canadian Pacific last week. It was Ryu’s first LPGA win in more than two years.
“It was a bit struggle with my putting for a while, but it looks like my putting feels really great. . if I stop play after last week, it could be I have a chance to have lost feeling. So I think this tournament is really important to going to play Evian,” Ryu said.
Also in this year’s field are former Portland champions Mika Miyazato (2012) and Ai Miyazato (2010), as is Women’s British Open champ Mo Martin.
South Korean players have won the past three LPGA tournaments in Ryu, Inbee Park (LPGA Championship) and Mirim Lee (Meijer LPGA Classic).
The tournament will be played at Columbia Edgewater for the second year in a row and for the 27th time in its 43 years. The event returned to the North Portland course last year, after a four-year run at Pumpkin Ridge.
The tournament purse is $1.3 million, with a first prize of $195,500.