Park finds herself in rare form at Kraft
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. Inbee Park’s touch on the greens is as pure as her all-white ensembles. When she’s dialed in, everyone in the field knows she’s tough to beat. Park poured in six birdies Friday at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course to shoot 67 and vault to the lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She might be largely overlooked by fans and media alike, but players know better.
Park blossomed in 2012, winning the LPGA money title and Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. This season, she won her season debut in Thailand.
“I had a lot of experience winning, losing, all different kinds of experiences that helped me a lot coming into this year,” said Park, who led the tour in both putting categories: putting average and putts per green in regulation.
Park, who has finished in the top 10 in nine of her last 12 major-championship appearances, was the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion. It was her caddie who wound up in a pond after that victory. Park said that though she hasn’t thought ahead too much this week, for the last eight years her father has said that if she’s in contention on Sunday at the Kraft, he’s going to fly in for the finish.
Despite two top 10s at the Kraft, Park never has been a factor during the weekend. In fact, she has never led one round of this event. Her average finish here: 32nd.
“I never had a good two days,” Park said of her play at the Kraft. “This is something new on this golf course for me, and I don’t know. It’s good.”
Park’s round got particularly impressive during a three-birdie stretch on Nos. 11-13. All six of her birdie putts Friday were inside 10 feet.
Heading into Saturday, however, Park has plenty of company. This eclectic board is full of major winners, unknowns and rising stars. Only 27 players are under par after two rounds, and one of them is Michelle Wie, who got the crowds reminiscing on days of yore when she made it to 3 under on the back side. A three-putt from Wie on the 18th, however, dropped her to 2 under. It was an odd day for the former teen phenom, who started out with an embedded ball on the first hole and wound up in the scoring tent on the ninth. She also spent time in the trees.
“The whole round in general was really interesting,” said Wie, who is T-12. “I’m just having fun out there. Like I said yesterday, just going out there and not taking anything for granted and just being excited that I’m actually here.”
One significant player not in the red: Stacy Lewis. The World No. 1 finished even par after a 1-under 71. One day after Lewis tripled the par-3 14th, she hit the flagstick on her tee shot.
“I need a few more bounces to go my way and to hit a few more fairways, and I’ll be right there,” Lewis said.
• Lizette Salas, the former USC All-American who came to this tournament as a teenager to root on Lorena Ochoa, is the only American in the top 10.
• Keep an eye on two-time major champion Cristie Kerr, who got it to 4 under before carding three consecutive bogeys, on Nos. 15-17. She birdied the 18th to finish 2 under.
• A slim-and-trim Caroline Hedwall, one of Europe’s finest young stars, is tied for third. The five-time winner on the LET, she has yet to do anything noteworthy in a major. She tied for 56th at last year’s Kraft, her first showing.
• Any hope that Yani Tseng held of winning this event went left with her tee shot on the seventh hole – out of bounds. Tseng triple-bogeyed the hole to finish her back nine in 39, giving her a 75 on the day and a 3-over total. She trails Park by 10.
• Defending champion Sun Young Yoo missed the cut with rounds of 77-76.
• Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old amateur who has three professional titles, shot 74 and is 2 over for the tournament.
• Amy Alcott, playing in her 27th Kraft, missed the cut with rounds of 81-80. She first played in this event as a 19-year-old and was the author of the leap into Poppie’s Pond, after her victory in 1988.