Park wins playoff to claim LPGA Championship

Inbee Park

Inbee Park

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — The last time a Grand Slam buzz surrounded a World No. 1 was back in 2005, when Annika Sorenstam headed into the U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills looking to make history. Sorenstam came up short that year, but Inbee Park has earned the chance to pull off the grandest of Grand Slams.

Park’s playoff victory at the Wegmans LPGA Championship on Sunday makes her two-for-two in 2013 majors. Any other year she’d be halfway home to the coveted Slam. But this year, it’s harder than ever to accomplish the feat. This year, there are five trophies to collect.

“I just love playing in major championships,” said Park, who has won three of them.

With The Evian Championship now a major, Park would have to take home trophies in New York, Scotland and France to win the Slam. Park, Incidentally, won last year’s Evian.

Prior to Park, only six players had won the first two majors of the LPGA season: Babe Zaharias (1950), Patty Berg (1955, ’57), Mickey Wright (1962), Sandra Haynie (1974), Pat Bradley (1986) and Sorenstam.

Only two players in tour history have swept the majors in a calendar year: Zaharias won three majors in 1950 and Sandra Haynie won the two that were contested in 1974. Obviously, Park’s task is much taller.

Despite being the No. 1 player in the world, Park, 24, often flies under the radar at big events, rarely considered the favorite. At the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack later this month, that won’t be the case.

This marks Park’s sixth victory in her last 22 starts. During that span, she also has five runner-up showings. Since finishing T-9 at last year’s LPGA Championship, Park has won more than half her career earnings. That’s $3,328,763 in a single year.

“I didn’t know I was going to be able to do it today,” she said. “Just hitting the ball everywhere. It made my day much harder.”

For most of the final round, it looked like a two-player contest between Park and Morgan Pressel, harkening back to their junior days when the two often met. But after Park played the last five holes three over par – hacking it out of the rough down the final stretch – it was 43-year-old Catriona Matthew who stood next to Park at 5-under 283. As if Sunday’s 36-hole finish wasn’t long enough, the event went into overtime.

Matthew, a mother of two girls who were back home in Scotland, said she didn’t realistically think she could win heading into the final round seven strokes back of a normally unflappable Park. But the British Open champ posted a tidy 4-under 68 to get to 5 under while Park had a couple holes left to play. Park drove into the rough on the 18th hole and made bogey, giving Matthew life.

Pressel, 25, got too aggressive with an eagle putt from off the green on the 17th hole, running it by the hole to the back fringe. She then missed the comeback birdie putt that would’ve put her at 5 under and into the playoff.

By that time, it seemed as though the four-shot lead Pressel held over the field Sunday morning took place a month prior. So much golf, so many momentum shifts.

“I didn't think Inbee would actually give me as much of a window as she did,” said Pressel, runner-up here in 2011. “And when she gave me a window, I gave it right back to her.”

Overall it was a bright week for Pressel, who had struggled after injuring her wrist in the rough at Locust Hill last year. It was also a much-neeeded boost for her bid to make a fourth Solheim Cup team.

In the playoff, Matthew made a tremendous par save from the rough on the second playoff hole to get back to the 18th hole for the fourth time that day.

But she again found the rough off the tee. Matthew’s second shot crossed the fairway and into the left rough, where the lie was so gnarly she couldn’t even get to the green. In the end, Matthew’s hack up the 18th didn’t matter as Park rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt to close the door.

“The youngest one keeps telling me not to come home unless I get a trophy,” said Matthew, speaking of daughter Sophie. “So I’m getting closer. She’s a hard task master.”

As the sun set on Locust Hill, the sound of bagpipes filled the air. That scene would’ve been more fitting for the Scottish-born Matthew, but nonetheless a sweet sound for Park. Asian-born players have won the last nine LPGA majors. South Koreans have won the last four. No one, right now, is more impressive than Park.

“I feel like I ran a marathon today,” she said.

Time to park it for a spell.

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