To paraphrase Annika Sorenstam at the end of Saturday’s broadcast, “Inbee Park was the story coming into this tournament and she’s the story today.” And with good reason. After three rounds in the U.S. Women’s Open, she pushed her leading score to 10-under and 4-strokes over an impressive I.K. Kim.
- She was the only player to break par on a day of tricky winds and challenging pins. Paula Creamer and Ai Miyazato shot even par and the whole field came back to them. That put Creamer at T6 and 11 strokes behind; Miyazato, T8 and 12 strokes.
- The rest of the players at the top of the leaderboard shot anywhere between 1- and 5-over. Jessica Korda fired her caddie in the middle of the round because she was tired of the negativity and she wasn’t having fun.
- There are only 5 players in the remaining 68-player field who are under par: Park (-10); Kim (-6); England’s, Jodi Ewart Shadoff (-3); U.S. Open winner, So Yeon Ryu and Angela Stanford (-1). That’s it.
So with all of that going on, Park’s most masterful accomplishment was that after making three bogies in a row on 11, 12 and 13, she kept her head and played on. She immediately birdied 14 and 15 and finished the round with a solid birdie on 18. Given the circumstances — a U.S. Open, sitting on the lead since the first round, tough conditions and tough pins — it was the quintessential bounce back.
Obviously, the wind was a bit stronger than yesterday, so the conditions were tough. The pin positions were tough, a lot of long irons hitting into the greens. It was just a very tough day, but I think I battled it really good out there. I had my tough times in the middle but ended up finishing very good, so I’m happy with that.
Yeah, I mean, 11 and 12 was a tough hole, and it wasn’t that bad of a bogey. You could make up a couple of bogeys. But 13 was a little bit disappointing, and I think that actually got me going after that bogey. I mean, I was actually very generous on number 11 and 12. Those two bogeys were okay, but 13, that bogey was a bad bogey, so after that I really got my concentration going after that. [It’s often said that sometimes a bogey isn’t all bad if it wakes you up and gets you going in the right direction.]
Did she maybe even get a little mad?
Yeah, I mean, that was a very bad bogey. I was looking for a birdie, but that bogey, that was two shots right there. Yeah, that was disappointing.
The putt she made on 14 to turn things around was other worldly. Her approach shot ran onto the green and up onto the tier behind the pin. So she had to read the break down the tier and then the break on the hole’s tier. When it got to the hole it was going pretty fast and then it was almost as if the cup swallowed it; it just disappeared.
Yeah, so I mean going into the breeze I thought it would be a little bit slower. I hit it a little bit aggressive, but I went too aggressive, and obviously I had the right line. I think that was just a very lucky putt. [Funny how the better you’re playing, the luckier you get.]
In light of Jessica Korda having fired her caddie in mid-round, what is Inbee’s relationship with her caddie like?
Yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s a very good friend of mine. Yeah, I mean, we’ve been reading the putts very good together. I think it’s just the relationship between the two of us is just great. You get to rely on somebody on the course, and I think that’s a big help.
So now she goes into the final round of the biggest tournament of the year with a 4-shot lead. Not only does she embrace that position, she rejects the notion that the pressure might be too intense to handle:
Yeah, I mean, I like to play in front of the leaders and I like to be leading also at the same time. I mean, leading means that you played better than everybody else for three days and you’re in the best position going into the final day, so I think you have an advantage over others. You probably have a little more pressure, but I think you should be able to handle that.
So is there any sort of special strategy she’ll employ? Anything she’ll do differently to try to keep the bandwagon rolling on?
Yeah, I mean, I’m just going to try to do the same thing that I did for the last three days. Yeah, I mean, 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. I just try to concentrate on whatever I’m doing on the golf course.
But what about Saturday night? What will she do to support her plans for Sunday?
Probably just make dinner and try to go to sleep. I might not get too much sleep, but I’m going to try to sleep and be fresh for tomorrow. What else can you ask for? I’ll probably have a good time with my family and friends back home. Yeah, just trying to have fun. I’m going to enjoy tomorrow anyway. Whether I win or not, I’m just going to try to enjoy tomorrow.
It sounds like her “family and friends back home,” are in Korea. And since most of the players need to be highly tech savvy, a good guess is that they will be connecting through Skype.
Whether that part is true or not, after a long day of high-level concentration, to be able to connect with loved ones at such a time should foster waves of relief that she can just let her hair down for a couple of minutes.
And if that’s indeed what happens, at the rate things are going for her so far, it’s easy to imagine not much of anything getting in the way of her coronation.