HARRISON, N.Y. – Threepeat?
Inbee Park says she isn’t focused on trying to win the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for the third consecutive year. She’s just trying to beat Sei Young Kim once.
“I have to say, my history with her is not great,” Park said after posting a 7-under-par 66 Saturday to take a two-shot lead on Kim going into the final round at Westchester Country Club.
Kim beat Park in a crazy playoff at the Lotte Championship in April. That’s the event where Kim chipped in at the 18th hole to force a playoff and then holed out from 154 yards with an 8-iron to win on the first sudden-death hole.
Kim’s an LPGA rookie, and that was her second title this season. She turned Park into a mere bystander in her first victory, too. Park played alongside Kim in the final round of the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic in January and watched Kim go on to win it.
“She probably feels like, `I win when I play with Inbee,’ because it's twice that she has won, and I played with her both times,” Park said. “There is always a first time. I’ve never won in front of Sei Young. So, never know, hopefully tomorrow.”
Kim started Saturday with the lead and promptly birdied the first two holes. She stretched her lead from one shot on Karrie Webb to five shots in practically the blink of an eye.
“She played unbelievably well,” said Webb (72) who is six shots back. “It was impressive to watch pretty much how flawless it was, except for a couple of shots.”
Even Webb, however, was surprised to see the long-hitting Kim bogey the last hole, a par 5, to give Park that two-shot cushion.
“I don't mind my position right now, because I feel comfortable,” said Kim, who built a reputation for comeback victories on the Korean Tour. “I have done this before. So tomorrow I will be aggressive, and I will do my best to try to win tomorrow.”
With Kim off that fast start Saturday, Park wouldn’t let her run away. Playing in the pairing in front of Kim, Park was brilliant. She made seven birdies and no bogeys on a firm, fast and tough setup. Park hit every fairway, and she hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
“It was the same approach Inbee takes in all the majors,” said her long-time caddie, Brad Beecher. “Look at the pins, know the ones you can’t touch. Then when you are able to attack, play a little more aggressively.”
There are five par 5s at Westchester, and Park attacked them, making birdies at four of them.
The Women’s PGA Championship is the rebranded name of the LPGA Championship, which Park won the last two years. Park is seeking her fifth major championship title in the last 12 majors played.
Kim was in control until late on Saturday. She had a one-shot lead with two holes to go, but Park birdied the 17th in front of her to tie for the lead and then Park birdied the 18th to move a shot ahead. Kim missed a 5-footer for par at the last to bogey to fall two shots back.
Park will be back alongside Kim in Sunday’s final-round pairing. They’ve both separated themselves from the field. Webb, Suzann Pettersen (71) and 17-year-old Brooke Henderson (71) are tied for third but six shots off the lead.
Park was asked if it’s a two-woman race.
“It just really depends how they set up the golf course,” Park said. “If they set it up really, really tough, I think it can be just me and Sei Young trying to battle each other. But if there are a lot of pin placements that we can get to, I mean, there’s been a 7-under par score every day for the last three days, so why not tomorrow?”
Park, 26, and Kim, 22, are playing so well, they could put on a Sunday show and run away from everyone else. It could turn into match play. Though Kim is the rookie, her recent record against Park seems to give Kim something of a psychological advantage.
“Sei Young is a long hitter, and this golf course really suits her, because a lot of the par 5s are reachable,” Park said. “A couple of the par 5s that I can't get too, she can get to. It's a matter of keeping up with her on the par 5s and I think I will be pretty safe.”
Kim has those two titles this year, but her record isn’t without a blemish. She took a three-shot lead into the final round of the ANA Inspiration and squandered it. Still, she proved at Pure Silk and Lotte she knows how to close. She won won five times playing the Korean LPGA Tour and led that tour in driving distance the last two years. Her caddie, Paul Fusco, knows Westchester Country as well as anybody in this field. He used to be Vijay Singh’s caddie and was on Singh’s bag for two of Singh’s four victories at Westchester Country Club.
“Paul’s helped me incredibly,” Kim said. “When I was told Paul won here twice with Vijay ... I felt I was going to play well here. Hopefully tomorrow, all of his energy transfers to make sure that I will do my best to win tomorrow.
Park will be doing her best to end Kim’s reign over her.