When multiple shots separate a player from her closest pursuer entering the weekend at a major championship, complacency can become an issue. At some point, the image of Inbee Park running away from an LPGA field, major or otherwise, begins to feel like deja vu.
It’s possible crowds and scribes have already hit that point. That Park doubled her lead on I.K. Kim over the course of a windy Saturday at Sebonack suggests she hasn’t. There was the streak of three bogeys at the beginning of the back nine, but they were followed by the improbable 30-foot birdie putt that floated over the top tier on No. 14 green – then dove into the edge of the hole at the last minute. There was the approach shot that trickled up against the lip of a greenside bunker at No. 18, but from there, Park got up and down for birdie.
By day’s end, Park, with her 71, was the only player to sign for a round under par. At 10 under for the tournament, she is four shots ahead of I.K. Kim. Jodi Ewart Shadoff is within seven shots, but the leaderboard drops off after that.
“You have got to putt well,” Kim said of catching Park on Sunday. “(Inbee) is doing great. I have just got to worry about my game, you know.”
The reality is four shots can evaporate quickly, especially on a U.S. Women’s Open setup. History, however, says that’s unlikely with Park in the lead. At the Kraft, Park led Lizette Salas by three shots at the start of Round 3. She expanded that lead to six shots after the first hole of the final round, and eventually finished four shots ahead of So-Yeon Ryu. Park won the season’s second major, the Wegmans LPGA Championshp, in a playoff with Catriona Matthew.
For her part, Park knows she cannot begin the day thinking of the lead she hopes to protect. In her head, she will twist the facts to create a scenario in which she and Kim are tied. Park just hopes to make lots of pars Sunday.
“A lot of thinking going on, a lot of pressure,” Park said of the final round of a major. “But I’ve done that before, so I think the experience is going to help me going through it tomorrow.”
If this season, during which Park has won five times already, has taught us anything about Park, it’s that emotional and explosive are not in her nature. She has the perfect demeanor for the game, as steady and repeatable as her slow and controlled backswing.
If tomorrow ends in her favor, then the golf world’s collective ears should truly perk. She’d be the fourth player to win three majors in a season, joining Babe Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986).
If Park keeps the pace, the quest for a grand slam continues at the Ricoh Women’s British Open next month, to be played at the Old Course at St. Andrews.
“It will be a big day, but it’s just a round of golf, and I just try not to think about it so much,” Park said of Sunday. “I just try to concentrate on whatever I’m doing on the golf course.”
Even if a victory Sunday doesn’t elicit a wild response from Park, it’s likely to draw the attention of a few more golf fans. There’s certainly no room for complacency in the pursuit of a grand slam.