Only second-year pro Lizette Salas, at 9-under after shooting 69, will go into the final day at Mission Hills Country Club closer than six shots, a testament to the leader’s steady, single-minded style and play.
Park’s stellar five-bogey, no-bogey performance also sets up the 24-year-old South Korean for her second win of the year, fifth title of her seven-season pro career and second career major victory. And it just might lift her into high-profile recognition that has so far ignored a deserving game.
Quiet and unassuming, Park is No. 4 in the Rolex World Rankings, winner of the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open, last season’s leading money winner and among the best putters in the women’s game, but rarely mentioned among the LPGA’s elite performers. It is not a slight of her talents as much as it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.
That could change with 18 more holes.
“Of course,” Park answered when asked if she needed another major to validate her place in women’s golf. “I only have won one major in my seven-year career and after the U.S. Open, I haven’t won for a while. I had a good year last year, but I definitely need to show a little more good play and maybe a couple more majors would be nice.”
Salas, however, vows to not go quietly. The former four-time All-American at Southern Cal from nearby Azusa, Calif., is feisty, confident and as out-going as Park is quiet. Playing with the leader on Saturday, she hung tough with four birdies and a single bogey, barely missing a four-foot birdie attempt on the 18th that would have moved her even closer.
“That will be in the back of my mind, just knowing I could have made that putt and only be two shots back,” Salas said. “But you can’t control everything out there. I put a good solid stroke on it and it just didn’t go in.”
Three shots is still do-able.
“If I play well, it won’t be hard,” she said. “I’m just going to stick to my game plan. I can’t control what she does. I can only control my swing thoughts and my routine. So we’ll see what happens.”
Next question: Is six shots do-able?
After Salas, the next closest challengers are at 6-under -- Angela Stanford (66), Karrie Webb (67), Karine Icher (68), Suzann Pettersen (67), Jessica Korda (68) and Pornanong Phaltum (70).
“I’ll tell you, anything can happen here, and being a major, I think five shots out, you still have a chance,” said American Angela Stanford -- just before Park birdied No. 17 to leave her six back.
Park declined to rule anyone out.
“I mean, this kind of golf course, anything can happen,” she said when it was suggested Sunday will be a two-player race. “So, no. I can’t really say that only one player is trying to catch me. I think everybody within maybe six, seven shots of the lead is still in the mix.”
Maybe, but it’s not likely if Park continues to make putts as she has all week. Over three rounds, she had needed only 83 putts, 28 on Saturday with a number of them from beyond 10 feet.
It caused someone to suggest she just might be the best putter in the world.
Park laughed. And for her, responded with a bold statement.
“My putter was really good today,” she said. “But I don’t think I’m the best putter on the earth. There’s a lot of good putters out here … but I think I’m one of them.”
That along with Park’s pattern of steady consistency raises the degree of difficulty for anyone hoping to chase her down.
“You know she’s not going to make a huge mistake,” Stanford acknowledged. “Like you’re saying, the fact that she’s that consistent, you know you are going to have to make birdies to catch her.
“But sometimes that’s OK. It’ll be good for me tomorrow to go out and think I need to chase somebody.”
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