Park's closing 61 helps break 11-month drought


Inbee Park fired back with an exclamation point.

A week after watching Stacy Lewis win the ShopRite Classic to take the Rolex world No. 1 ranking from her, Park answered dramatically Sunday, closing fiercely with a 10-under-par 61 to win the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. 

"It definitely took a little pressure off me," Park told reporters after winning. "At the same time, I needed a little motivation."

Though Park couldn't take back the No. 1 ranking with her impressive finish at Grey Silo Golf Course, the timing of her first LPGA title of 2014 adds to the storybook season the tour is delivering. Park will head to the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in a week with confidence and momentum in her bid to defend her title and take back the No. 1 ranking. 

"My last win on the LPGA tour was last year, about this time a year ago, and it really felt longer than a year," Park said. "After winning the U.S. Open in 2008, and not being able to win another tournament for another four years, I didn't want that to happen again. The longer you don't have the win, the longer time you have, the harder it gets to hold the trophy. So, I'm just really happy that I got that done."

It seems as if all the best players in women's golf are on their games going to U.S. Women's Open.

Rolex No. 1 Lewis, No. 2 Park, No. 3 Lydia Ko and No. 4 Suzann Pettersen all posted top-10 finishes in Canada.

Manulife Financial LPGA Classic: Articles, videos and photos

"Last year, it seemed like it was easier to win, but this year, obviously, it's been tough," Park said. "I feel that I played very good golf compared to last year, but I couldn't win until this week. That tells you how competitive the LPGA tour is and how players are playing great this year. 

Even a light rain couldn't cool Park, with her putter heating up Sunday. Her 61 was the lowest score she's posted in her eight LPGA seasons, three shots lower than her previous best in 169 tour starts. It tied the Grey Silo course record.

Two shots back at day's start, Park won her 10th career LPGA, title overtaking Shanshan Feng with 10 birdies and no bogeys. At 23-under 261, Park finished three shots ahead of Cristie Kerr (63) and five ahead of Feng (68).

Kerr, who closed with a 63, didn't look at a leaderboard until she putted out on the 17th hole. She couldn't believe she was three shots behind Park.

"I was stunned," Kerr said. "You think you'd be close." 

While Park dominated the LPGA a year ago, winning the first three majors of the season, she had gone 50 weeks without winning on the tour. Though she won the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship on the Ladies European Tour in March, she had not won an LPGA event since claiming the U.S. Women's Open at Sebonack Golf Club in New York.

"I got a confidence boost before going back to the U.S. Open," Park said. "I really wanted to have a trophy, before I played the big major tournaments."

The victory didn't just end a drought for Park. It broke a rare winless spell for the South Koreans, marking their first LPGA title this year. It broke the longest winless drought to start a year for the South Koreans since 2008.

When Park heads to Pinehurst No. 2 next week, she will be looking to win South Korea its sixth U.S Women's Open title in the last seven years.

Park's title creates a remarkably tight battle for the Rolex No. 1 ranking going to Pinehurst. Park will move within three-tenths of a point of Lewis in the rankings going to the U.S. Open.

Park, one of the best putters in the world, has an uncanny ability to demoralize her competition with the flatstick. Though she led the LPGA in putting average going into the Manulife Life Financial, she wasn't happy with her stroke. Everything, though, seemed to be going in at Grey Silo. She took 25 putts in the final round after hitting all but one green in regulation.

"The putter is definitely the key," Park said. "I've been hitting the ball consistently all year, my putter's just not been wanting to do its job. This week, obviously it did its job.

"I really tried to go back to what I was doing last year, how I putted last year, looking at the videos and stuff like that, trying to see what was different, trying to see what I did different this year and really trying to go back to the old way."

The old winning ways.