By Mike Dougherty
HARRISON – The rhythmic swing of Inbee Park held up all week long, methodically producing a string of tight-lipped birdies that added up to a runaway win at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
It was an impressive display.
And when the final putt this week at Westchester Country Club rolled over the edge and into the cup, Park slowly lifted both arms in celebration. Somewhere on the inside, she was turning cartwheels. Or not. The 26-year-old South Korean came in with a remarkable 19-under total of 273 on Sunday and won by five shots.
There’s a place in history for this champion.
“I felt a little bit nervous this morning, a little bit of sweat on my palms before I got to the golf course,” said Park, who closed with a 5-under 68. “I just tried to concentrate on the golf swing and the putting stroke and the pressure kind of went away a little bit. When I had the big lead going into the last six, seven holes, I kept thinking about so many what ifs and it was hard to concentrate.
Nobody could have guessed there was an issue.
Park moved back atop the Rolex World Rankings and has won this event three years in a row on three different courses, putting her in the company of Annika Sorenstam. It was her sixth major championship, putting her in the company of Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Patty Sheehan and Kathy Whitworth.
All of them are in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“I always dreamed about being part of history,” Park said. “There’s my name on great championships. People remember me. I probably won’t really realize what I’m doing right now, but I look at the names on this trophy, all the legendary players, and we still remember them. So I think it’s just one of those things that people will still remember me, that I was a good golfer.”
That observation was punctuated with a broad smile.
Park birdied the 72nd hole to match the record for lowest score in relation to par in a major. Tiger Woods also got to 19 under at the British Open in 2000. She made three bogeys all week, none in her last 56 holes. Park revealed afterward that a neck issue on Tuesday nearly prevented her from playing.
At some point in the coming days, her bank account will grow $525,000.
Park has an impressive grip when a tournament win is within reach. She’s held the 54-hole lead six times in her career, and only once failed to follow through.
“I don’t know what people don’t like about being in the lead in the final round,” Park said. “I think it’s just the best spot to be in. You’ve just got to think the other way around. People say you just feel a lot of pressure when you’re leading. But then, you’re in the best position for a trophy. Even if you shoot the same number as the other players, you win.”
Park had a two-shot lead on Sei Young Kim when they came to the first tee Sunday, and there was some early back and forth.
The 22-year-old rookie slipped early, making bogeys at the fourth and fifth holes, but rebounded quickly, dropping birdies at the sixth, seventh, and eighth holes to get within a stroke of the lead.
Kim was poised to recover from a poor drive at No. 9, but wound up four-putting for a double bogey.
Park confidently rolled in a birdie and made the final turn with a comfortable four-shot advantage. There was no drama on the way in. Lexi Thompson was making an incredible charge, but lost traction late in the round and settled for a 66 that left her tied in third place at 12-under.
A strong finish put Brittany Lincicome in fourth place at 281.
“Having three wins already this season and winning a major championship already, it feels like I’ve done the homework,” Park said. “I can play without the pressure a little bit from now on, and hopefully that brings better results.”