ORLANDO, Fla. – If the players in hot pursuit of Hee Young Park were waiting for her to stumble, she wasn’t about to oblige.
Winless in her four LPGA seasons, Park broke through Sunday at the CME Group Titleholders, winning in her 106th start on the tour.
She did it holding off some of the biggest names in women’s golf and holding on through some of the most difficult holes in the women’s game.
At one point on the back nine at Grand Cypress Resort, the top 13 players on the leaderboard all had LPGA victories on their resumes, except for Park.
The posse of a dozen champions chasing Park had accounted for 86 LPGA titles, 14 of them major championships.
Paula Creamer, Sandra Gal, Na Yeon Choi, world No. 1 Yani Tseng and No. 2 Suzann Pettersen were all breathing down Park’s neck at day’s start.
It only made winning that much more meaningful in the LPGA’s season-ending event.
“It’s a dream come true,” Park said.
With a 2-under-par 70, Park closed nearly mistake free, claiming the $500,000 first-place check, the second largest in women’s golf, topped only by the U.S. Women’s Open top prize.
At 9-under 279, Park finished two shots ahead of Gal (72) and Creamer (70) and three ahead of Choi (70) and Pettersen (72).
“That’s awesome playing, especially in these conditions, when there are a lot of top players, battling, trying to get up there,” Creamer said.
Tseng closed with a 74 to finish seven back.
Park, 24, is just the third South Korean to win this year, an off year for that national powerhouse. Park acknowledged she felt some pressure to join her fellow countrywomen as an LPGA winner.
Nicknamed “Rocket” for her ability to make birdies in bursts, Park’s ascent in the United States wasn’t as rapid as expected. She was the Korean LPGA Rookie of the Year in 2005. She won six times in Korea, and she was so highly regarded there that her fellow tour pro voted her swing the best on tour. She grew up playing against Jiyai Shin and Na Yeon Choi and much was expected of her when she qualified for the American tour before the 2008 season.
Asked if she felt any pressure to win, Park nodded: “Yes, from my sponsors.”
Creamer found out Saturday why they call Park “Rocket.”
“I played with Hee Young yesterday, and at the end, I was like, `Wow, where did all those birdies come from,’” Creamer said. “She deserves this.”
Park started the day tied for the lead with Gal and briefly stumbled at the fourth hole, making bogey and allowing Gal to go ahead by a shot. Park answered strongly with one of her rocket blasts, making three birdies over the next four holes to take control of the championship. She finished off the victory with 10 consecutive pars.
“I still cannot believe it,” Park said.
She has the entire off season to let the victory sink in.
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