Rolex Rankings No. 1 Inbee Park’s quest to win a third straight major championship got off to a great start on Thursday at the U.S. Women’s Open conducted by the USGA. Park fired a 5-under 67 at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. and she sits one shot back of first-round leader and fellow South Korean Ha-Neul Kim.
For most of the day on Thursday, it was Park at the top of the leaderboard. Park was the leader until nearly the last putt of the day dropped, as Kim birdied her 17th hole of the day around 7:45 p.m. ET to take a one-shot lead over the No. 1 player in the world. Kim shot a bogey-free 66 to take sole possession of the first-round lead. Currently a member of the KLPGA Tour and a seven-time winner in Korea, Kim is playing in her first U.S. Women’s Open.
“This is my first time in U.S. Open, and I didn't think that [I’m] going to do it like this,” Kim said through a translator.
While it was Ha Neul Kim at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day, all eyes on the first day of play at the U.S. Women’s Open were on Park as she seeks to achieve a rare feat this week.
Park, who won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the Wegmans LPGA Championship earlier this year, is trying to become only the second player in LPGA history to win the first three majors in a season. Babe Zaharias accomplished the feat in 1950 when she won all three majors played that year – the Titleholders Championship, the Women’s Western Open and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Bad weather had been predicted to arrive along the Peconic Bay in eastern Long Island on Thursday but the winds remained calm early and the sun was shining for the majority of the day. The placid weather combined with some generous pin placements created prime scoring conditions for the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open and Park was one of the players able to take advantage. She made six birdies and one bogey en route to shooting 67, her career-low round at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“The USGA was a little generous on us today,” said Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen. “A lot of tees were moved up. So instead of hitting like 5‑irons, we were hitting 9‑irons, and that was making the course much easier. I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. Yeah, I made a lot of putts and didn't leave much out there.”
It has already been quite a year for Park in 2013. A win this week would be just the latest amazing feat for the 24-year-old South Korean. She has five victories so far this season, including the two major titles. She took over the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Rankings from American Stacy Lewis following her victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April.
Park’s impressive play, however, extends back to last season as she’s won seven times in her last 23 LPGA starts and has eight additional top-10 appearances over that span.
“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment,” Park said. “The way I'm playing, the way things have been going, the way I've been getting the luck, I think I am in the zone. I've been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”
For those who have been watching Park’s dominant performance on the LPGA Tour over the past year, it’s no surprise to see her near the top of the leaderboard following Thursday’s first round at the U.S. Women’s Open. Even with all of the additional pressure and spotlight being put on Park as she seeks her third straight major victory, the ever-calm South Korean hasn’t changed her demeanor and the putts just keep dropping.
“She putts like that every week,” said Rolex Rankings No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who was paired with Park in the marquee group of the day. “I mean, it's every round I play with her. She always putts like that. I think everything inside 10 feet, other than that last hole, she made everything. So that's the way Inbee plays. She's steady. She'll hit a bad drive here and there but she'll get up‑and‑down from 100 yards and that's just her game.”
Sitting two strokes back of the leader Kim and stroke behind Park at 4-under-par are American Lizette Salas, Sweden native Caroline Hedwall and South Korean I.K. Kim. With one hole remaining in their rounds, both Kim and Hedwall were tied with Park for the lead at 5-under-par but both bogeyed their final hole to finish one shot behind the world No. 1. Salas birdied her final two holes to finish off her round of 4-under 68.
There are plenty of other players chasing as well, including Lewis. The Woodlands, Texas native is looking for her second career major title and she’s put herself in a solid position after the first round, shooting a 1-under 71.
“I'm excited with the way I hit the ball, especially some of those shots I hit at the end into 6 and 7 were really good,” Lewis said. “So I'm excited about where my game is. This is not a tournament you want to lead after the first day because it's hard to maintain that for four days.”
Defending champion Na Yeon Choi also fired a 1-under 71 and sits in a tie for 17th.
Topics: US Women's Open