It’s hard to believe Inbee Park hadn’t played an LPGA Tour event from last June until this February. But after the putting display she put on Sunday at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore – en route to a course record 8-under-par 64 – Park announced to the world she was back in a big way.
The 28-year-old, who captured this event in 2015, struggled with a major thumb injury a year ago and only returned to the golf course to capture the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics in August before shutting it down for the rest of 2016.
She finished T25 at her LPGA Tour debut a few weeks ago at the Honda LPGA Thailand before Sunday’s victory, padding her Hall of Fame resume.
“I thought it might take maybe a couple months to get back out on the Tour and to get my rhythm back. I thought I was going to be just a little bit rusty. That's how I felt last week,” said Park. “This week was totally different. Especially the final round was just what I wanted.”
Park got off to a fairly pedestrian start, making pars on her first four holes. But then in a stretch of 10 holes, Park made seven threes. She managed to hold off a charging Ariya Jutanugarn – who shot a final-round 66 – who did everything she could to capture the South Korean.
It was not to be, however. Park, almost leisurely, made the HSBC Women’s Champions her 18th LPGA Tour victory.
“My putting was amazing today, obviously,” explained Park, who made 27 putts after hitting 17 of 18 Greens in Regulation. “Yesterday I was really disappointed with my putter. I couldn't make any putts yesterday and obviously I made up for it today.”
“Today was pretty much, everything I looked at, it wanted to drop in. It was very consistent ball-striking all week, and obviously there were a lot of birdie opportunities out there and I was able to convert many of them today,” continued Park.
Jutanugarn, No.2 in the Rolex Rankings, stayed with Park for most of Sunday but was eventually undone by a bogey on the par-4 12th. Although she bounced back with birdies on the next two holes, that one misstep was all Park needed to separate herself from the pack at the Tanjong Course.
But Jutanugarn said it was great to play with Park on Sunday, who she said is an inspiration to her.
“I’m really happy about my game, especially this week, and today, I had so much fun. You know, I have so much fun playing with Inbee. She's awesome. She's the best player,” she said. “I learned a lot from her. She's very calm. I feel like she makes every putt. I think she didn’t miss one putt today.”
Michelle Wie was also undone by just one bad hole Sunday.
She came to the par-5 5th after two-straight birdies, and the lead. However, she four-putted from close range and ended up with a double-bogey 7. Her even-par round was enough for a tie for fourth, her first top five finish on the LPGA Tour since 2014.
Brooke Henderson started her day 5-under through nine holes, but couldn’t get anything going on the back nine, making eight-straight pars and finishing with a 6-under-par 66. Still, her tie for fourth was her first top five of the young 2017 season.
“I got off to a great start, 5-under through nine holes, and only one birdie on the back. But I gave myself a lot of great chances today and I was able to capitalize on a lot of them,” said Henderson. “It was nice to see my name up on the leaderboard, so hopefully over the next few weeks I'll see more of that.”
Mirim Lee moved into the top 10 after firing a 7-under-par 65 – the low round of the tournament for a couple of hours, until Park put the finishing touches on her spectacular Sunday round – thanks to eight birdies and just a lone bogey. She recorded her second-straight T8 this week in Singapore.
World No.1 Lydia Ko was unable to get anything going Sunday, and her even-par round left her in a tie for ninth, her second straight top-10 finish.
The LPGA Tour is off next week before heading to the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix, Az. starting March 16th.