She started the final round three strokes behind the best player in the world.
She started the final round birdie, birdie, par, eagle.
Within one hour of teeing off Sunday at the Safeway PING, Se Ri Pak had blown past third-round leader Annika Sorenstam and everyone else onto the top of the leaderboard. The second-ranked player in the world certainly looked like No. 1 on this day.
Se Ris front nine included three birdies and two eagles. Despite a bogey on the sixth hole, Pak fired an opening 30 to take control of the LPGAs second tournament of the year.
Se Ri produced that low-60s round ' 64 to be exact ' to win for the 19th time in her remarkable LPGA career. I knew with Annika in the lead, playing so well that I had to start off well and just play aggressively, Pak said after the win. It really gives me a lot of confidence, now, to beat the best players in the world.
It turned out it was fellow Korean native Grace Park, not Sorenstam, who had the best chance to catch Se Ri. Playing at home in Phoenix, the 24-year-old Arizona State product came within one stroke on the back nine. But when Pak made a clutch birdie ahead of her on the final hole, Grace needed to hole out from the fairway to catch her.
She almost did it!! Parks perfectly struck 9-iron covered the flag all the way. It landed right on line ' 20 feet from the hole. One hop directly at the cup; but then, its backspin forced the ball to skid to a stop, just six feet short. I know ' how could I leave that short, the playful Park joked. I guess Ill blame my caddie.
There were no such fireworks from Sorenstam. She opened her round with nine consecutive pars. Her only Sunday birdie came on the par-5 10th hole. I dont know why I couldnt make any birdies. I was sure trying. I just had a lot of lip-outs, said Annika. But Im very happy with the way I played. I mean 19-under par in my first tournament of the year is pretty good.
But 23-under par in just her second tournament of the year is pretty good for Pak, as well. Se Ri has certainly earned her share of the spotlight. Last year, while a dominating Sorenstam was winning 11 times on tour and producing yet another season-long scoring record, Pak was the bridesmaid.
No one seemed to notice that Se Ri was doing something pretty special herself. The 1998 Rookie of the Year won five times in 2002, including her fourth major championship.
Im really proud of myself, Pak said, after this victory was secure. I really wanted to win this tournament.
Now, the confident and smiling star heads to the California desert to play the Kraft Nabisco Championship ' the first major of the year. Se Ri has already won two LPGA Championships, one U.S. Womens Open and one Womens British Open. If she can win this coming week, the 25-year-old would become the youngest player in LPGA history to complete the career grand slam.
When informed of this fact, Se Ri grinned and said, Yeah, I know.