When Inbee Park’s putter is on, the trophy usually comes along with it. It was on Saturday when Park needed only 25 putts in a brilliant 5-under-par 67 that allowed her to jump into a three-shot lead after trailing by one entering the day at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational Presented by Banamex and JTBC.
“I feel like I played really good,” Park said. “Especially on the back nine, I was able to make a lot of putts and I was able to control the shots a bit better today so it’s a definitely a plus, cause last couple of days I’ve been making a lot mistakes.”
Park seized the lead over Sei Young Kim with a back-nine 4-under-par 32, putting her in the position she thrives in. 15 times in her career Park has held at least a share of the lead after 54 holes and her track record is nearly unprecedented with victories on nine of those occasions. In 2015, Park has closed the 54-hole lead three of the four times she’s held it. But this has been one of the few tournaments that has eluded her, posting a runner-up, fourth, and third place here in the last three years.
“I had pretty good finishes the last three years, I just couldn’t finish it off,” Park said. “I hope tomorrow I can play like today. I felt pretty good about the putter and I’m just going to try to keep the rhythm for tomorrow.”
Park is being chased by a host of capable challengers though. Sei Young Kim, the 2015 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, is three shots back at 7-under-par while Carlota Ciganda and So Yeon Ryu are four shots back at 6-under-par. If Park can hold them off, she’ll make a huge leap in the Rolex Player of the Year standings, cutting Lydia Ko’s lead to just three points.
“It’s always great to have an opportunity for the end-of-the-year awards,” Park said. “It brings a lot of excitement for players and the crowds. Everybody’s involved in it. I think it’s going to be a great experience. Last year I came really close with Stacy Lewis but hopefully I’ve learned something from my mistake last year.”
CHASING HER BEST FRIEND
So Yeon Ryu played her first 14 holes Saturday in 5-under-par to cruise into the tournament lead but quickly gave it away with a double bogey on the 15th hole.
“I hit it a little left with my driver and I finished in the rough. Second shot wasn’t bad but still 12 yards left to the pin and I four putted,” Ryu said. “I think I got a lot of tension in my hands, so I need to work on that on the putting green.”
Despite being disappointed with her close, Ryu was overall pleased with a 3-under-par 69 that has her four back of her best friend, Inbee Park.
“Today’s round was quite a variety. I made a lot of bogeys, double, birdie, eagle, I made pretty much everything,” Ryu said. “Then I was pretty disappointed with my six but I wanted to put the situation as a positive rather than get myself down, especially heading towards last round.”
Although Ryu was the bridesmaid in Park’s wedding, she won’t let friendship get in the way of chasing a victory on Sunday.
“We are best friends off the golf course and on the golf course as well but competition is competition,” Ryu said. “No matter who it is, I just want to try my best and I know it’s an important tournament for her as well. She is so close to Player of the Year and there is only two more events on the year. I do always want to win a tournament and I haven’t won any LPGA events this year, and I only have two more events so it’d be nice to win this.”
ASSIST FROM JOSE MARIE OLAZABAL
Carlota Ciganda went home to Spain last week and called up an old friend to get some assistance with her putting before the season’s final two events. That friend? Jose Maria Olazabal, the two-time Masters champ. Ciganda and Olazabal frequently play in the offseason and she got an assist with her putting from him last year before the CME Group Tour Championship, where she lost in a playoff so she decided that a repeat needed to be in order.
“We are good friends so I just called him and sometimes we just play together and sometimes he looks at my putting because I like the way he putts,” Ciganda said. “I spent two days practicing a few things and he showed me a few things and I’ve been putting really good this week so I want to thank him for that. Plus, he is just a really nice guy and so he’s a role model for me.”
Ciganda said that the things Olazabal recommended to her really weren’t any different than they were a year ago before the CME Group Tour Championship. She has a tendency to get her hands out of position a little bit at address and so Olazabal was able to work with her to get them back where they should be.
“It was pretty similar,” Ciganda said. “I just didn’t know what was going on and he told me those little things and I just think it’s much better now.”
ANOTHER PARK AND KIM SUNDAY BATTLE
Inbee Park was involved in the most exciting finish of the 2015 season earlier this year at the Lotte Championship when Sei Young Kim holed out a chip shot on the 18th to force a playoff with Park then holed out from the fairway for eagle to beat Park. But Park paid her back a month and half later in another Sunday battle with a victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship over Kim.
Therefore, it’s only right that one of the season’s final events ends with another battle between the world No. 2 and the 2015 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year.
“She’s a tough player and she really gets other players going,” Park said of Kim. “She’s very competitive and passionate and it’s always good to play with a player like that during the final round.”
There was a 53-minute delay for the final three groups Saturday because of an issue with transportation.
The on-site LPGA Rules Committee issued a statement explaining the situation and the decision to move back the final three groups tee times.
“The last three groups of Round 3 of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational have been delayed 53 minutes due to the late arrival of an Official Tournament transportation vehicle. The vehicle departed the Official hotel at 9.30am and arrived to Club de Golf Mexico City at 11.46am. The ride to the course, usually taking 15-20 minutes was delayed due to unanticipated road closures and the alternate route in which that particular vehicle took.
The LPGA Rules Committee cited Decision 6-3a/1.5 and determined that exceptional circumstances beyond the player’s control had occurred. The first player in that vehicle affected was given 45 minutes to warm up. The starting time for that group became 12.31pm.”