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Resurrecting the champ

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BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Since winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Interlachen, Inbee Park’s game has been as quiet as her sneak attack up the leaderboard during the final 18 holes of last year’s championship. In 23 starts since becoming the youngest champion in U.S. Women’s Open history, Park has only one top-10 finish (which came in Arkansas the week after last year’s title run) and four top-20s. In 13 starts in 2009, the 20-year-old Korean has missed four cuts and earned only $92,460, or less than one-fifth of what she earned for winning last year’s Open.

“All last year and this year I’ve been waiting to play in this event,” said Park on Tuesday from Saucon Valley Country Club, site of this week’s 64th U.S. Women’s Open. “I’m very excited to be here, and this course really reminds me of last year’s course. It definitely favors the long hitters. The course is playing fairly long, even without any rain.”

Park will have a difficult time defending her title if she continues to drive the ball like she has so far this season. She currently ranks 141st on the LPGA Tour in fairways hit (58.1 percent) and greens hit in regulation (57.2 percent). While she claims to be driving the ball 15 yards farther than last year, it might be her putting stroke that keeps her in contention this week. Park is tied for third in putting (1.74 putts per GIR).

“I feel like my game is coming back,” said Park. “I just have to be very focused all week. This course is not going to play easy, so just keep making pars and be very patient out there, and be myself.”