Inbee Park’s march toward history kicked off in Thursday’s first round of the RICOH Women’s British Open and for a significant portion of the morning, the leaderboard looked much like it had in the previous three LPGA major championships this year – with Park’s name right at the top.
Then Park got a reminder that capturing an unprecedented fourth consecutive major in a season likely wouldn’t be that easy.
A few wayward drives and two three-putts in her final three holes resulted in Park opening up this week’s major with what she described as “a rollercoaster” round. She shot a 3-under 69 that featured seven birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey on the Old Course at St. Andrews to put herself three shots behind first-round leaders Morgan Pressel and Camilla Lennarth, who each fired a 6-under 66.
“I played very good on the front nine and then I had a little bit shaky on the back nine,” Park said. “But I still feel really good about the game. I was 6‑under through ten holes and that means I could do the same thing tomorrow.
“There was a couple of bad drives and a couple of bad putts on the back nine, but it's the first round…A little bit disappointing, but I'm glad that I've done that in the first round instead of the final round.”
Pressel may be chasing her second career major title and a spot on this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup this week but all eyes were on Park Thursday as she began her chase at a historic Grand Slam. Park is trying to become the first golfer – male or female—to win four professional majors in a single season.
Park’s hunt for the Grand Slam has drawn worldwide attention and in spite of the increased attention focused on her this week at St. Andrews, the 25-year-old South Korean didn’t seem to be fazed by the pressure at the start Thursday’s first round.
After teeing off at 7:03 a.m. local time in cloudy conditions with a light drizzle, Park wasted no time getting her name on the leaderboard. She birdied the first hole and then managed to take advantage of the easier part of the golf course as she shot 31 on the front nine. Known for her solid putting, Park put on a clinic with her flat stick over the first 10 holes of her round. She sank birdie putts that measured close to 40, 30, 20 and 10 feet during that stretch and once again showed why she’s considered to be one of the best putters currently in the game.
Park moved to 6-under-par when she made a 5-foot birdie putt on the 10th, but gave the stroke back with a bogey on the par-4 13th. After driving the ball into the heather, Park had to slash out with her second shot and then hit her third to about 15 feet. She missed that putt for par and had to settle for bogey as she headed to the final stretch of holes.
Things proved to be more difficult for Park at the end of her round, as her driver wasn’t quite as steady. She missed a few fairways coming down the stretch, most of them to the right-hand side, and then three-putted on No. 16 and 17 as she carded a double bogey and then bogey to drop to 2-under-par. A birdie on the final hole got Inbee back to 3-under-par for the day.
Pressel meanwhile took advantage of calm, sunny conditions in the afternoon of Thursday’s first round to make seven birdies and shoot 66. The 25-year-old American had a chance to go to 7-under-par on 18 but missed her birdie putt, which kept her from matching her lowest round in a major championship -- 65 which she shot in the third round of the 2010 RICOH Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale.
Fellow American Stacy Lewis also put herself in the hunt for a second career major title on Thursday, shooting a 5-under 67 to take the early clubhouse lead. She finished the day in a tie for second with six other players including Rolex Ranking No. 3 Na Yeon Choi. Lewis managed to take advantage of the difficult finishing at St. Andrews, firing a 31 on the back nine to take advantage of the favorable scoring conditions on Thursday.
“I got more comfortable with my putter, made a couple of good putts for par,” Lewis said. “To come away, shooting 5‑under on the back nine on this golf course, I don't care if it's calm or if it's windy, it's a good score, so I'm very happy with the day.”
As for Park, her race at history will continue on Friday when she tees off at 11:48 a.m. local time. While the normally stoic Park didn’t show any outward signs of feeling the pressure of her chase leading up to Thursday’s first round, she acknowledged afterward that she’s glad the first part of her journey this week has been completed.
“I was a little bit nervous this morning before I teed off,” Park said. “But then once the round started, and especially playing so good in the first few holes, that really gave me a lot of confidence. I didn't feel much pressure when I was playing during the round. I'm just glad that it is already started and I got the first round under my belt.”
Eyes on the prize: Morgan Pressel strengthened her chances of making the 2013 U.S. Solheim Cup Team with a first-round 66 at the RICOH Women’s British Open. Meg Mallon’s 12-player squad will be finalized following play on Sunday and Pressel is currently on the outside looking in, one Rolex Ranking spot out of an automatic qualifying spot.
“I wish I had about a dollar every time somebody asked me that,” Pressel said, referring to how often she thinks about making the Solheim Cup team. “I'd be a bizillionaire.”
She added, “Having played on three teams, it's something that I don't want to miss and something that I'm definitely thinking about, and at the same time, trying not to think about and trying to worry about focusing on this week.”
The 25-year-old is a three-time U.S. Team member who recorded a 4-0 record during a 2011 loss to the Europeans. This week she is seeking her second major championship victory. In 2007, Pressel became the youngest major championship winner in LPGA history at the Kraft Nabisco Championship at the age of 19.
Topics: Ricoh Women's British Open