Inbee Park was not the best ball-striker over the weekend at the Evian Masters, but she put on a putting and short game clinic the likes of which hasn't been seen in a long time on the LPGA. When the dust settled, Park ended up at -17, having taken only 98 putts over 72 holes, for a 2-shot victory over Stacy Lewis and Karrie Webb, who hit 15 and 19 more greens in regulation than Park did for the week, respectively, but just couldn't get the ball in the hole as quickly or as consistently as the now-2-time-LPGA winner.
Lewis was -12 through her 1st 25 holes, but went +1 over her next 43 before finishing birdie-birdie-par-eagle. Webb, meanwhile, missed only 9 greens all week, but wasn't putting the ball as close to the pin as consistently as Lewis was. Even though she, too, put on a great final charge, going -4 over her last 7 holes, it was just too little, too late to put enough pressure on Park. The 2008 U.S. Women's Open champion went through troubles of her own, taking 15 holes to return to -12, after having gotten there with a birdie on the 10th hole on Saturday, but once she got there, with a birdie on the par-5 7th on Sunday, she never looked back, going -5 over her last 11 holes to knock a lot of golfers playing really well back on their heels.
Like Paula Creamer, who really got her putter going this week. Sure, just like Lewis and Park, she endured a rough patch on Saturday, ending her 36-hole bogey-free run on the very 1st hole, then negating her 2 birdies on the back with back-to-back bogeys. And she was +1 through her 1st 6 holes Sunday, falling all the way back to -7 for the week. But then she made 4 birdies in a row, including a 40-footer on the 10th, to fight back to -11. Even though she couldn't buy a birdie the rest of the way and had to settle for T9 at -10, it must have been fun to be back in the hunt at different times this week. I think it's a sign of things to come the rest of the season.
Or how about Cristie Kerr, who was putting with a lot of confidence all week. A 6-birdie 67 on Saturday got her into the mix, and when she birdied both closing par 5s on the front, she was -10 heading into her final 9. Sure, she faded, too, but it was a great ball-striking week and a better week with the putter than her stats indicated.
How about players closer to the top of the leaderboard than Creamer and Kerr? Let's start with Natalie Gulbis, who started off the season playing really well, endured a mini-slump in her last several starts, but came back with a bang at the site of her 1st and only LPGA victory. After a 69-69-68 start, it looked like the altitude (double digits under par, high up the leaderboard, as near to the final pairing on Sunday as she was to Lake Geneva) was getting to her at the start of her final round, as she bogeyed 2 of her 1st 3 holes and needed great scrambles for most of her 1st 6 just to keep the damage to that. But then she birdied 7 and 8 and just missed a birdie on 9 and boom, she was back in the mix at -10 heading into her final 9. Unlike Creamer and Kerr, she finished strong, with 3 birdies in a row early on the back and 2 in a row to close out the tournament. Except for failing to birdie the par-5 15th and bogeying the short par-4 16th (just like Creamer), she played great on the back. Just not well enough to beat Park.
What about the winner of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, Shanshan Feng? She seemed to have knocked herself out of the tournament when she went on a 3-hole bogey train late in her 2nd round, but she went 68-66 over the weekend, highlighted by a hole-out for eagle from the back trap on her 72nd hole, to force everyone still on the course to really buckle down over their closing holes. Great effort and maybe even a little better Sunday round than the one that got her her 1st LPGA win and major, but not enough to stop her fellow dual-LPGA-JLPGA member.
Speaking of golfers who have played great on multiple tours this year, how about that 17-year-old amateur Hyo-Joo Kim? She hit the ball well enough to win this week--something she's already done on the KLPGA and JLPGA. She put together 4 rounds in the 60s (something only Gulbis was also able to achieve) and took only 102 putts all week. If the birdies had started dropping sooner for her on Sunday than over her last 4 holes (where she made 3, including her last 2 in a row), she really could have given Park a run for her money. Of everyone in the field, she probably was closest to having the speed of the greens down as well as Park did.
How about Anna Nordqvist, who fist-pumped her way to 6 Sunday birdies that brought her to -12, good enough to finish alone in 7th? She was fantastic over her final 3 rounds, going 67-69-68, but she wasn't quite fantastic enough, making 4 bogeys and a double despite hitting 11 more greens than Park during the week.
Other players had their chances--Se Ri Pak at -11 was steady but never spectacular, Beatriz Recari and Ilhee Lee at -10 bounced back nicely from Saturday collapses that cost them a chance to win, Momoko Ueda fired 3 69s, including 2 over the weekend, to finish T12 with Kerr, Guilia Sergas, and Karine Icher and take low Japanese player from Mika Miyazato (-8, T16 with Azahara Munoz, Meena Lee, Lindsey Wright, and Lee-Anne Pace) and Ai Miyazato (-7, T21), Hee Young Park was doubled digits under par with 4 holes to go using the long putter for the 1st time this week, but finished with 3 bogeys in a row and a mere par on the final hole to finish tied with Ai-sama and Julieta Granada--but they couldn't put it all together the way those who finished ahead of them did.
But they certainly have more positives to take away from the week than Suzann Pettersen, Ji-Yai Shin, and Carlota Ciganda, who closed with 74s, So Yeon Ryu, who went 72-73 over the weekend, and Cheyenne Woods, who played great for 3 rounds but stumbled to a Sunday 78. In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, and Hee Kyung Seo had fewer downs, but also fewer ups, as they, too finished in the middle of the pack. Perhaps the biggest surprise (and disappointment) was U.S. Women's Open champion Na Yeon Choi, who opened with a 75 and failed to break 70 the rest of the way (although she did beat Kraft Nabisco Championship winner Sun Young Yoo, who closed with a 75, by a single shot).
All in all, though, with so many players from all around the world in the mix heading into the final 9, and so many spills and thrills from so many of them, the final playing of the Evian Masters as a regular-season event before it becomes a major next year had an Olympics-like feel to it. Hats off to Inbee Park! She deserves a week off before playing in the Jamie Farr the 2nd week of August. (Apparently, Shanshan Feng feels differently, as she's headed to Japan to defend her Meiji Cup title!)