SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Sebonack stared down Inbee Park Saturday at the U.S. Women’s Open.
She didn’t blink, not really.
Even with the golf course snarling and growling and finally putting up its best defenses, Park wouldn’t be derailed in her march toward history. Even with three consecutive bogeys on the back nine, her resolve wouldn’t be dented.
A gritty 1-under-par 71 in the most difficult conditions this week helped Park stay on course in her bid to become the first player in six decades to win the first three major championships of the year in women’s golf. With a round of four birdies and three bogeys, Park was the only player able to break par in the third round.
At 10-under 206, Park is in rarified air. In the 67-year history of the U.S. Women’s Open, only four players have finished the championship in double digits under par.
Park goes into Sunday knowing Sebonack will probably continue to stiffen its defenses, but she goes in with a four-shot lead on fellow South Korean I.K. Kim (73), double the lead she started with on Saturday. Park is seven shots ahead of England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff (74) and nine in front of American Angela Stanford (74) and South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu (73).
With so much riding on Sunday, Park says she won’t be protecting a lead.
“I'm just going to think that I.K. and I are tied starting tomorrow's play, because anything can happen out here,” Park said. “I mean, four shots, it could be nothing around this golf course. I just have to keep pushing myself to make pars. I think par is going to be good enough tomorrow, but I'm just going to try to do my best.”
Park, 24, is trying to join Babe Zaharias (1950) as the only women to open the season with a trifecta of major championship victories. She’s bidding to join Zaharias, Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) as the only women to win three majors in a year.
This is Park’s run at a second U.S. Women’s Open title. When she won it in 2008 at Interlachen, she was 19, becoming the youngest winner of this championship.
Winning is becoming a habit for Park. She has already won five times this season, including her last two starts. She has won seven times in her last 27 starts.
“A lot of thinking going on, a lot of pressure,” Park said of being the 54-hole leader in a major. “But I've done that before, so I think the experience is going to help me going through it tomorrow.”
Though Sebonack is a different kind of test than Locust Hill, where she won the Wegmans LPGA Championship three weeks ago, Park showed the same unflappable demeanor when Sebonack tested her most. Park bogeyed three of the final five holes at Locust Hill, including a dispiriting bogey at the last, but rebounded to beat Catriona Matthew in a playoff. On Saturday at Sebonack, Park looked like she might be beginning to unravel when she made three consecutive bogeys. Park struck back, though, with back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th holes and then a closing birdie at the 18th.
Park rolled in a terrific 40-foot birdie at the 14th. She did so from a ridge above the hole, snaking the ball down a testy downhill run.
“That was a big putt for me,” Park said. “Those three bogeys were very tough to handle in the kind of situation that I was in. I thought the putt was going to be a little bit slow going into the wind, but it ended up being very quick, quicker than I thought. It was a bit strong, but I think I was just very lucky. I think I was just lucky there, purely.”
Good and lucky make Park so formidable these days.
“I think she is amazingly sound,” said Na Yeon Choi, the defending champ. “If someone asked me what is her weakness, there is nothing. She is pretty good with everything, even mental. I think she's great.”
Park will play the final round alongside Kim, who beat her in the final of the 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“She is playing great,” Kim said. “But you never know, I might have a great day tomorrow. So golf is a different thing than other sports. That's why you play four rounds. She is playing great, so I have just got to play my game.”
And hope Sebonack finally makes Park blink.