There appears no end to the enchantment in this magical season in the women’s game.
Days after taking the Rolex world No. 1 ranking from Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park fought off a determined charge by Lewis Sunday to win the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship.
“Stacy was really tough,” Park told reporters in Taiwan. “It was a really good day, but it wasn’t an easy day for me.”
Park, 26, and Lewis, 29, have ruled over the game for the past two seasons, but until Sunday’s terrific duel in the wind and rain over New Taipei City they had not gone head-to-head trying to finish off a victory.
“I don’t think this is the last time we’re battling at the end of a tournament,” Lewis said. “We’re both playing some really good golf right now.”
It was Park’s first victory since she married her swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, two weeks ago.
“Maybe people said, `She’s not going to play as well as when she was not married,’” Park said. “I think we can put that as wrong.”
Four shots up at day’s start, Park watched Lewis slash her lead to a single shot with a birdie at the 16th hole. Typical of the back-and-forth battles these two have waged taking turns holding the No. 1 ranking over the last 85 weeks, Park answered. She stiffed her approach to 3 feet at the 17th to make birdie and held on from there to win by two.
Park was uncharacteristically excited after closing out, showing just how much beating Lewis in a head-to-head duel meant to her.
“I don’t think we ever played on the final day,” Park said. “We’ve played in the first two rounds, but it’s different in the final round. This was almost our first match together. If she had beaten me, it would have been tough.”
Park opened her round with back-to-back birdies.
Lewis countered making birdies at the first three holes.
Park looked as if she might be succumbing to the pressure Lewis was applying early when she made back-to-back bogeys finishing off the front nine, but Park righted her waywardness in a big way. After hitting an 8-iron into the water in front of the ninth hole, Park took a drop and then barely cleared the hazard with her next shot. She was undaunted, however, chipping in for bogey from 45 feet.
Park finished at 22-under overall, closing with a 71. Lewis shot 69.
While Park and Lewis hadn’t gone head-to-head before in a final round, they’ve applied unrelenting pressure on each other in the world rankings. They’ve shared the No. 1 ranking over the 20 months, each taking two turns at the top, with Inbee reigning for 60 weeks and Lewis for 25.
Park’s victory intensifies the burgeoning rivalry between these two and ratchets up the stakes over the final three events of the year. Park looks as if she isn’t satisfied just taking the No. 1 ranking from Lewis late in this season. She looks determined to overtake Lewis for the Rolex Player of the Year Award and to beat her out in the Race to the CME Globe.
Park’s victory was her third LPGA title of the year, equaling Lewis for the most this season. With the victory worth 30 points, Park moved within 12 points of Lewis in the Rolex Player of the Year race. The schedule moves to Japan next week for the Mizuno Classic, to Mexico for the Lorena Ochoa Invitational the week after and then to Naples, Fla., for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Lewis is going to play all three with Park skipping only the Mizuno Classic.
That this season should come down to a battle between Park and Lewis for the LPGA’s biggest prizes seems fitting. This has been a year where star power has delivered in a big way, with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie winning their first majors, with Americans dominating the first half of the season and the South Koreans the second half.