Park back on radar leading Women's British

Inbee Park during Saturday's third round of the 2014 Women's British Open at Royal Birkdale.

SOUTHPORT, England – Funny how quickly we can forget the extraordinary. Inbee Park came to Royal Birkdale completely under the radar. She called the oversight “weird” and “awkward” but said she didn’t mind.

Last year at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, Park was the only story at the top of the week. The world’s best player was chasing the elusive Grand Slam at the Home of Golf. Park fell short, and one year later the spotlight had shifted considerably to a budding rivalry between Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie.

Cue Park, back to spoil the party with designs on a career grand slam.

“I think I’m a little more mature player than I (was) last year,” said Park, who holds a one-stroke lead over Suzann Pettersen, Sun Ju Ahn and and Shanshan Feng. Lurking three back are a couple other major threats in So Yeon Ryu and Lewis as well as Amy Yang, the young Korean who played alongside Wie in the last group at Pinehurst. And let’s not forget home-crowd hero Charley Hull, who posted a 6-under 66, the day’s low round.

“I said to my dad last night, ‘I’m not out of this championship,’ ” said Hull, who birdied all four par 3s.

Laura Davies sees a bit of herself in the aggressive young English player.

“The longer she can keep the fear out of the game the better she’ll go,” said Davies, who can recall the exact moment that fearless approach ended for her, seven years into her career.

The year was 1990 and she was playing an LPGA event in Nashville, Tenn. Davies blocked a drive so far right on a par 5 that it changed her entire way of thinking. That’s when she started hitting driver off the deck.

“For me it was seven years and one bad shot,” said Davies, “but she might have a stronger mental fortitude.”

Hull proved her mettle on the 18th Saturday. After hitting tee shots O.B. down the right side on No. 18 in the first two rounds and a third that came within inches of the fence, Hull piped driver down the fairway on Day 3 and made birdie.

“I was about to pull my 3-wood out, and then my caddie was like, ‘No, don’t hit 3-wood,’ ” Hull said. “I thought, well, at the end of the day, that out of bounds is 60 yards right and I’m ripping it out there.”

Players agreed that Saturday, another sunny, breathless day until the final group played up the 18th, proved to be the easiest.

“Without this weather the scoring would’ve been horrendous,” said Davies.

Lewis, who will play with Hull on Sunday, birdied two out of the last three holes to move within striking distance.

The tougher the better Sunday for Lewis, as she enjoys powering up the board from behind. In 15 starts this season, Lewis has a final-round scoring average of 68.6. When she’s trailing Sunday, she has a 68.2 average.

“I think (having) the lead is harder when those conditions get hard,” said Lewis, who birdied the last two holes at the Old Course to come from behind for her second major title.

Playing in the final group with Park is Suzann Pettersen, who missed several tournaments in the spring, including the Kraft Nabisco, with a back injury. While Pettersen said she’s playing pain-free again, she goes about her business with extra precaution.

“The only workout I do is to flip TV shows on my iPad with my finger,” said Pettersen.

She eagled the 17th and birdied the last to shoot 68. The Norwegian’s best finish at this tournament is a tie for fourth last year.

Sun Ju Ahn appeared to have a one-stroke lead when she walked off the 18th but she received a two-stroke penalty on the last for trying to get a level stance by knocking down the side of a bunker. The double-bogey dropped her into a tie for second, giving Park a nice 26th birthday present.

Only six players in tour history have won the career grand slam: Mickey Wright, Louise Suggs, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam, who was the last to do it in 2003.

Park, who is set to marry her coach, G.H. Nam, on Sept. 26 at a golf club about an hour outside Seoul, put a new putter in play this week as she needed something to freshen the mind. She was, without question, the best putter on tour in 2013 but has had trouble finding her way on the greens this year. Short putts, in particular, have given her grief. She three-putted twice Saturday and missed a 3-footer for birdie on the 18th.

Park’s caddie, Brad Beecher, said they were trying to work through the issue but this week the mindset is to simply move on after missing a short one.

The key to Park’s Saturday surge was the incredible 3-under start she enjoyed on the most difficult stretch at Royal Birkdale – the first four holes.

Unlike Lewis, who hits driver only once before she gets to No. 15, the shorter Park hits the big stick off the tee 12 times. Saturday, she hit 18 greens.

"I feel like this tournament owes me one," Park said, smiling. Don’t forget, she shot 61 to win in Canada last month.

Make no mistake, she wants this one badly.

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