Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kraft Nabisco Championship Sunday: Inbee Park Wins the Second Major of Her LPGA Career

So Yeon Ryu put the pedal to the metal and fired the low round of the week, a bogey-free 65, while Caroline Hedwall made the turn going birdie-birdie-eagle birdie, today at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, but their fireworks didn't faze Inbee Park in the least.  From the moment she birdied the 1st hole and her playing partner Lizette Salas doubled it, Park enjoyed leads of from 4 to 6 shots for most of the day today, as she cruised around Mission Hills on the way to her 5th career LPGA victory and 2nd major on tour.

It's not like there weren't a lot of fine rounds out there today. Shanshan Feng opened with a bogey-free 31 and held on for a 67 that moved her up about 25 spots to -2.  Haeji Kang birdied 4 holes in a row late on the back to post a 68 and finish at -6.  Cristie Kerr came out flying with a bogey-free 32 on the front to get to -6, but proceeded to shoot herself in both feet with a birdieless 39 on the back, allowing her playing partner Moriya Jutanugarn to finish 1 shot ahead of her thanks to 4 birdies in her last 10 holes of bogey-free golf, including 2 in a row to finish off her round in style.  Meanwhile, Catriona Matthew matched Kerr's front 9 and held on for an even-par back 9 to post a 68 of her own that got her to -5.  Giulia Sergas birdied 5 of 6 holes as she made the turn to tie Matthew for 7th.  Jennifer Johnson played her last 17 holes bogey-free and -5 to catch Jutanugarn at T13 with a great 68.  And there were tons of 69s by Jodi Ewart Shadoff, playing partners Se Ri Pak and Jane Park, low amateur Lydia Ko, Alison Walshe, Natalie Gulbis, Jee Young Lee, and Julieta Granada.

But nobody could even come within shouting distance of Inbee Park, who strung together pairs of birdies 3 times in her round, on 1 and 2, 8 and 9, and 12 and 13.  Sure, she birdied 6, 10, and 17 to "settle" for a 69 and a 4-shot victory over Ryu, but so what?  Compare that to playing partners Ai Miyazato and Carlota Ciganda, who went 76 and 78, respectively, or Ya Ni Tseng's 74 that left her at +2 for the week, or 72s by playing partners Stacy Lewis and Na Yeon Choi that kept them at -1 for the tournament.  Or worse:  Pornanong Phatlum got it to -8 late on the front, but played her last 11 holes +4 and birdieless; Jessica Korda got it to -7 midway through the back, but finished bogey-double bogey-bogey-par; Karine Icher played a bogey-free round, which sounds great until you realize she got it to -7 as she made the turn but took 2 doubles on the back; Angela Stanford got it to -6 (twice), but finished double bogey-bogey-par; Salas ended up with 2 doubles and 3 bogeys to barely break 80 from the final group of the day.  That's what majors are all about, too.  Camilla Hedberg fired a pair of 72s to make it to the weekend, but followed them up with a 79 and a 78 to take next-to-last.

But enough agony of defeat.  How about our champion Inbee Park?  By my count, this one makes it 4 wins, 12 top 5s, and 14 top 10s since last spring.  This is her 1st major since the 1st win of her career at the U.S. Women's Open.  It's her 2nd win of 2013 and 1st since the season-opener in Thailand.  Having finished 2nd 6 times on the JLPGA in 2010 and 6 times on the LPGA last season, often in heartbreaking fashion near the end of the year when the money-list title and Player of the Year race were on the line, this win has to feel particularly satisfying to Park.  If she keeps playing like this, there'll be many more to come, too!

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