Inbee Park moves up at Women’s PGA, leaning again on putter
CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Inbee Park has felt both reflective and inspired this week, with the Women’s PGA Championship being played in Minnesota.
The LPGA Tour Hall of Fame member has been hoping, too, she could conjure that dominant performance on the greens from the last time a major tournament was held in the land of the lakes more than a decade ago.
“I was really pleased that so many people still remember me, with the 11 years that it’s been,” Park said. “There are so many fans out here, still rooting for me, still remembering the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open in Interlachen, so I was really happy with that. I got really good vibes from them.”
Park, who will turn 31 next month, pushed herself up the leaderboard Saturday at Hazeltine National with a 4-under 68 on the daunting course that played a little nicer in the third round with less wind than the previous day.
The first of her seven major championships came in this state in 2008, when she won the Open at Interlachen in Edina by four strokes to become — at age 19 — the youngest winner of the event. She took home the trophy that weekend with a steely set of nerves backing her impeccable short game, setting the foundation for a career that now includes 19 tournament victories. She has two top-10 finishes this year.
“I’m definitely looking for one of the Interlachen days of putting tomorrow,” said Park, who entered the final round in a five-way tie for seventh place at 3 under, six strokes behind leader Hannah Green .
Park’s putter hasn’t been as sharp in recent years, though the ball-striking part of her game has improved. Park, who entered the week 10th in the world ranking , took a 12th-best-on-tour percentage of greens reached in regulation (74.8) into the Women’s PGA Championship. She’s sixth in driving accuracy. In putts per round, though, she ranks 68th in the world (30.14).
She finished the 2008 season tied for ninth in putts per round (27.68). In 2015, the year of her last of three straight Women’s PGA Championship victories, she still ranked 11th on the tour (29.11).
As for whether she can catch Green?
“I think it’s just a matter of how I can putt. Today’s front nine was probably the putting stroke that I was look for,” said Park, who went bogey-free after making three of them Friday. She added: “On the back nine I think I could’ve made a couple more, but I think just opportunities just flew by. But just another day like today would be nice.”
With the increase in big-hitting competition at the top of the tour these days, Park isn’t likely to win a tournament off the tee. Her current average driving distance rank is 129th, at 251.944. Park’s playing partners in the first two rounds were long-hitters Lexi Thompson and Ariya Jutanugarn.
“I really felt like I was really behind and couldn’t keep up with them,” Park said. “They hit it really, really far, and the golf course that they’re playing is totally different than mine.”
Park was one of the scores of South Korean girls who took up golf in the late 1990s, motivated by the success of Sei Ri Pak. Eventually, Park became that kind of inspiration in her country, including a young Sei Young Kim.
Kim, who shot a 67 on Saturday, the best of the round, played one group behind Park. Kim, who has seven career wins in five seasons on tour with five top-10 finishes in majors, was tied for fifth at 4 under.
“After the front nine, I felt like I really needed birdies, because Inbee, she made a lot of birdies. I can hear that,” Kim said.
Kim, ranked 11th in the world, eagled the 336-yard 14th hole .
“I tried to just pitch at the pin,” Kim said, “but when I made it I was just so surprised.”