The Heritage

Pettersson humble about 1-stroke lead going in to Sunday

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comApril 15, 2012 

RBC Heritage Golf

Carl Pettersson reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green to take the lead during the third round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Saturday, April 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)


— Carl Pettersson is nothing if not realistic.

The seven-foot birdie putt he made at Harbour Town’s par-4 18th hole Saturday afternoon sent him home with a one-stroke lead over Colt Knost entering the final round of the RBC Heritage but little more.

Pettersson, a former N.C. State golfer who still lives in Raleigh, has won four times in 11 years on the PGA Tour. That’s a very good $16.7-million career – Knost has never won – but it’s not as if being in the final pairing on Sunday is routine for the Swedish-born Pettersson.

“I’m not Phil (Mickelson) or Tiger (Woods) or anybody,” Pettersson said. “Trying to win a tournament with the lead is difficult. But if you want to win, that’s what you’ve got to do. I’ll be trying my hardest and we’ll see what happens.”

Starting the third round two behind Knost, Pettersson flipped the top of the leader board early, stringing together five straight birdies starting at the second hole. While Knost was battling nerves early, Pettersson stretched his lead to three after 10 holes before a couple of mistakes allowed Knost to close the margin.

While Pettersson and Knost have separated themselves – Zach Johnson will start four off the lead while two-time Heritage winner Boo Weekley is five back – it hasn’t been uncommon for Sunday to produce some dramatic twists. Last year, Brandt Snedeker started the final round six strokes behind, posted a closing 64 and beat Luke Donald in a playoff.

Brian Gay closed with 64 in his runaway victory three years ago and Stewart Cink shot 64 to roar from behind in 2004.

“Guys aren’t afraid to go out and shoot 63 or 64 on Sunday,” said Snedeker, who is again six back with 18 holes remaining.

Like Masters champion Bubba Watson, Pettersson has a homemade golf swing. He’s worked briefly with a couple of teachers but he primarily relies on himself to keep his game in order. He picked up on a swing thought last month about clearing his left hip prior to impact and it’s resulted in a succession of crisp, dead-on-line iron shots. He finished second at the Shell Houston Open two weeks ago and, after last week off, has kept the positive vibe going.

Pettersson leads the field in greens in regulation, having hit 74 percent of the smallest putting surfaces on the PGA Tour.

“Once he gets it going, he can go low,” said Tim Clark, a college buddy from N.C. State with whom Pettersson is sharing a rented house this week. “He can certainly shape the ball, hit it high or hit it low. This place is great for him.”

Sunday could be a career-changing day for the 26-year old Knost, who was forced to go through qualifying school again last year to retain his PGA Tour privileges. A former U.S. Amateur champion, Knost wrestled his nerves early Saturday, hitting his opening tee shot just 185 yards, leading to a bogey on the first hole.

He responded by holing a 48-foot eagle putt at the par-5 second, helping to settle his nerves.

“I just really didn’t have my swing all day,” Knost said. “I feel like I didn’t have my best. If I get it figured out, I’ll have a good chance (Sunday).”

The last time Knost was in the final pairing on a Sunday in a PGA Tour event, he shot 81 in the Shell Houston Open in 2009.

“I’ve been in the last group a couple of times and I put so much pressure on myself to play well that I played horribly and I didn’t enjoy it,” Knost said. “I’m going to try (Sunday) to have fun. No matter what happens, I’m learning a lot and I feel like I can put myself in this position again.”

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