Park has to play catch-up in bid for another major
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Inbee Park felt pressure like never before when she first arrived at St. Andrews, knowing that a victory in the Women's British Open would make her the first golfer to win four professional majors in the same season.
Even before she hit her first meaningful shot on the Old Course, she considered the week a success.
And even though a 1-over 73 left her eight shots behind going into the weekend, she doesn't feel any differently.
Park is not only chasing history. She's embracing everything that comes with it.
Her hopes were tossed about Friday in the strongest wind of the week at the home of golf. With two more three-putt bogeys, a bad break when her best tee shot landed in a sand-filled divot and chunked chip at the start of her round, she was never under par at any point.
She was eight shots behind Na Yeon Choi, her good friend and a former U.S. Women's Open champion who played in the same conditions and shot 67.
After signing her card, Park spent several minutes in a trailer being interviewed by ESPN. Up next was another interview with Golf Channel. After that, she stopped for a group of Korean TV reporters who barked out instructions on where she should stand. Before going to another interview with CNN, she stopped to speak to 10 print reporters. One of them asked if she could imagine having so many reporters gathered around her to ask so many questions.
"Well, this is pretty much the only week I'm going to get that much, so I should enjoy this moment," Park said. "I'm trying to enjoy every moment that I'm here."
Not only has no golfer ever won four straight majors in a season, no one has come this close.
Park is the first player, male or female, to win the first three majors since the modern version of the Grand Slam was created in 1960. The last golfer to win three straight in a year was Babe Zaharias in 1950, back when the LPGA Tour only had three majors.
There were times she already sounded resigned to seeing someone else collect this trophy.
"Whether I win or whether I don't, the last two days that I had here ... lots of great moments that I've collected," Park said. "If I can handle this kind of pressure, I'm not afraid of anything in my career from now on."
It sounded similar to what Annika Sorenstam went through in 2003 by playing on the PGA Tour at the Colonial. Under more scrutiny than any other female golfer, nothing fazed the Swede the rest of her career. She won the next major she played after Colonial at the LPGA Championship, and completed the career Grand Slam that summer at the Women's British Open.
"When you experience something big like this, some kind of big pressure like this, you're just really not afraid of any kind of pressure," Park said. "How can it get bigger than this? Anything is going to be less than this."
So she considers the attention as a blessing, not a burden.
"That's something not everybody gets to experience," she said. "It's a great experience."
Not so great was the golf. She faced the bad end of the draw and didn't bring her best golf, which isn't a great combination.
Bursts of rain were strong enough to leave puddles on the Old Course in the morning, and while it looked bleak, it didn't last. And the rain never really made scoring conditions all that difficult. Miki Saiki proved that with a 6-under 66, the lowest score in the six rounds the Women's British Open has been held at St. Andrews. That left her one shot behind Choi.
Morgan Pressel took another step toward locking up a spot on the Solheim Cup team with a 70 in the morning, leaving her two shots out of the lead. She now can think squarely about the Women's British Open, and perhaps adding a second major to the Kraft Nabisco Championship she won in 2007 as an 18-year-old.
Choi's 67 in the afternoon was more impressive, especially since it was 8.4 shots better than the average score among the second half of the draw. It was one of only three rounds in the 60s. Conditions were so demanding that when Choi was asked to give details of her six birdies, she couldn't recall much further back than the 17th hole.
"Five hours out there, this kind of weather, it's hard to remember," she said.
It's a round Park would like to forget, one that will make her quest even more difficult to add to her trio of majors this year.
"A little bit of everything wasn't working well out there today," Park said. "I don't feel like I played horrible today. A little bit unlucky with the draw, not playing in the morning when it's lovely. But that's the way it is."
Her problems started on the opening hole, when her approach over the Swilcan Burn rode the wind and bounced beyond the green some 50 feet from the flag. Her chip only got halfway there, and she two-putted for bogey.
Park's birdie on the sixth was offset by a three-putt bogey on the 10th. A birdie on the 12th was followed by a bogey on the 13th, in part due to a bad break. On the toughest driving hole on the back nine, Park hit her best tee shot — only for it to roll into a sand-filled divot. Her approach came up just short of the green, and she hit putter down the slope and 10 feet past the cup.
Her approach to the 17th ran up the left side of the Road Hole Bunker and left her about 60 feet, and she hit another poor lag — short and 8 feet to the right — leading to her second three-putt of the round, and fourth of the tournament.
At least she still had 36 holes — and plenty of hope — remaining to get back in the race.
"The tough, gritty players can win this," Stacy Lewis said after a hard-fought 72 left her five shots behind. "Anybody under par is not out of this."