Southampton, NY – Only 18 holes stand in the way of Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park winning her third straight major of the 2013 LPGA season. Park shot a 1-under 71 in Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. and she will take a four-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.
As the 54-hole leader at the 68th U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club, the 24-year-old Korean is on the verge of placing her name with the greats of the game. Park, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this year, is trying to become only the second player in LPGA history to win the first three majors in a season. Babe Zaharias is the only other player to accomplish the feat. Zaharias did it in 1950 when she won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Despite the potential of a history-making day looming in front of her, Park didn’t to be seem fazed by the situation. “I’m going to try to do the same thing that I did for the last 3 days.” Park said after her round on Saturday. “It will be a big day, but it’s just a round of golf. I just try not to think about it so much. I just try to concentrate on whatever I’m doing on the golf course.”
Park held a two-shot lead over I.K. Kim when the fog-delayed second round was completed early on Saturday morning. A total of 41 players had to finish their round on Saturday after heavy fog in the area halted play at 6:40 p.m. on Friday evening. Park had the advantage of being able to complete her round on Friday, finishing out the 18th hole with a birdie after the fog had already arrived.
But while the fog disappeared by Saturday morning, scoring conditions proved to be quite difficult for most of the field in the third round. The wind was gusting hard for much of the day on Saturday along the Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island and it tested the patience of the players. Only five remained under par for the tournament at the end of Saturday’s third round and Park emerged as the only one who was able to shoot under par in the third round.
“I think I played very good today, especially after the three bogeys,” said Park. “ I came back very strong. I mean, overall playing today I think I putted very good. I probably putted the best out of all the three days. It was tough out there with the wind. It was probably the strongest that we’ve played all week, and the pin positions were just really tough out there today. So I mean, it was a very grinding day.”
Park began the day with eight straight pars but watched her lead grew as the field moved away from her. Kim got off to a rough start as she went four-over in her first five holes and no one seemed to be able to make a run at Park. A birdie at the ninth moved Park to 10-under-par, reaching the vaunted double-digit under-par total that eludes most players at this event. She then held her largest lead of the day when Jodi Ewart Shadoff bogeyed the 10th to give Park a five-shot lead.
But the usually unflappable Park started to show a little weakness at the start of the back nine. Three straight bogeys on No. 11-13 dropped Park to 7-under-par and her lead shrunk to three shots. Still Park rebounded with an improbable, downhill 35-foot birdie putt on the 14th to move back to 1-over for the day.
Park’s playing partners weren’t about to let the world No. 1 pull away without a little bit of pressure. Following Park’s amazing birdie on the 14th, both Ewart Shadoff and Kim drained birdie putts to stay four shots back at 5-under-par. Yet on the next hole Park showed why she is considered one of the best putters on Tour by draining a 20-footer to increase her lead again to four shots. It would be the margin that she’d carry into Sunday after she and Kim exchanged birdies on the 18th hole to complete their rounds.
“I think I’m just going to think that I.K. and I am tied starting in tomorrow’s play because anything can happen out here,” Park said. “I mean, four shots, it could be nothing around this golf course. So it can’t be too ?? I just have to keep pushing myself to make pars. I think par is going to be good enough tomorrow, but I’m just going to try to do my best.
“A lot of thinking going on, a lot of pressure. But I’ve done that before, so I think the experience is going to help me going through it tomorrow.”
Not only is Park chasing history with her potential three straight major victories, but she’s trying to become only the fourth player ever to win the U.S. Women’s Open with a double-digit under-par score. The 72-hole record in relation to par at the U.S. Women’s Open is 16-under, which was shot by Juli Inkster in 1999 at Old Waverly G.C. in West Point, Miss.
Park, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion, has now led or co-led after the third round a total of eight times in the past year and she’s finished no worse than T2 in those situations. She led after 54 holes in each of the first two majors this year, winning both although she needed a playoff to capture a victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this month.
Park, who will turn 25 on July 12, put herself is esteemed company with a victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, becoming just the seventh player in LPGA history to win the first two majors of the season. She joined Zaharias, Patty Berg, Mickey Wright, Sandra Haynie, Pat Bradley and Annika Sorenstam in the accomplishment.
But the South Korean’s ability to deliver victories or runner-up finishes over the past year has been beyond impressive. In her last 23 events, Park has won seven times and finished runner-up five times. So in more than half of the events she’s played over that span, she’s finished first or second.
“It’s remarkable,” Paula Creamer said of Park. “I mean, we could watch history tomorrow of what she has been doing. Like I said, winning a major, one major, is tough enough. Winning three in a row, that’s pretty impressive. But there’s a lot of golf left too at the same time. There’s some girls in between going to be chasing her and have got nothing to lose. We’ll see what happens.”
Among those who will be chasing Park are her two playing companions from Saturday, Kim and Ewart Shadoff. They will sit at four and seven shots back respectively entering the final round.
“I think we all have a chance,” Kim said. “Yeah, I mean she is playing great. But you never know, I might have a great day tomorrow. So golf is different thing than other sports. That’s why you play four rounds. She is playing great, so I have just got to play my game.”
Story courtesy of lpga.com