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Park Makes it Look Easy at Mission Hills
Inbee Park rose two spots in the Rolex Rankings after sweeping to victory in the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday. The LPGA Tour's first major of the year took place at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
The 24-year-old Park closed with a 3-under 69 to finish at 15-under 273, four shots ahead of fellow South Korean So Yeon Reo, who posted Sunday's low round of 7-under 65, and six ahead of Sweden's Caroline Hedwall (68) and Norway's Suzann Pettersen (69).
The win, worth $300,000, was the fifth of her career and second major; her first LPGA title came in the 2008 U.S. Women's Open.
The victory was Park's second of the year and it moved her up two spots in the world ranking right behind No. 1 Stacy Lewis and just ahead of Taiwan's Yani Tseng and Korean Na Yeon Choi. Lewis, also a two-time winner in 2013, had an off-tournament, posting rounds of 73, 71, 71 and 72 to end up tied for 32nd at 1-under 287.
Lewis wasn't surprised by Park's performance. "I've seen Inbee do this before," said Lewis, the 2012 LPGA Player of the Year. "I played with her at Evian last year when she had I think 22 or 23 putts in the final round. When she rolls it, you can't beat her.
"She's the best putter on Tour. The course here is a little softer than normal, so I think that's to her advantage. She doesn't hit it quite as high as some other people, but when she's rolling it you're not going to beat her."
Park was paired in the final round with Lizette Salas, who started Sunday three strokes behind Park. While Park birdied the first two holes, Salas double-bogeyed the first hole and never recovered, posting a 7-over 79 that dropped the Southern California native into a tie for 25th at 2-under 287.
Despite her final-round travails, Salas put on a game face afterwards. "Very disappointed in myself," she told reporters. "But it was one of those days where it could have gone from bad to worse, and starting off with a double wasn't in the game plan, but everyone is going to have those days where they're just not going to be able to score, and bad luck, it was the last day of a major championship for me.
"You know, I have to look at the bright side, and learning from Inbee, there's a reason why she's No. 4 in the world. It's just a learning experience for me, and I'm really upset, but I just have to look back and say look how far I've come from last year to this year. There's lots of positives, and you just have to - I just have to dig deeper and figure out what happened today and just the shots weren't there."
After taking the ceremonial dive into Poppie's Pond adjoining the 18th hole with her caddie and six friends, Park met with reporters and discussed her second major. Here's what she had to tell the media.
MODERATOR: What a great performance over four days, just an incredible putting display. I have to ask, how was the jump for you?
INBEE PARK: It was great. That's the pond I've always wanted to jump in, and I finally jumped in. It was a little bit chilly, though.
Q. Can you tell us who went in with you? I know Brad your caddie, your fiancÚ?
INBEE PARK: And my swing coach, and a couple of my friends, my trainer. Yeah.
Q. Anybody else? There were a lot of people.
INBEE PARK: There was like three of my friends and my trainer.
Q. With your win today you're projected to go to No. 2 in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings when they're announced tomorrow, very close to No.1 Stacy Lewis. How does that feel?
INBEE PARK: That's the place that I've always wanted to go, and I only have one more spot to go. That brings a lot of momentum, keeps momentum going for me, especially after this week. I feel a lot of confidence with my swing and with my putting. Everything has been going the right way this season, and it feels good.
Q. Do you have a wedding date yet?
INBEE PARK: I don't have a wedding date yet.
Q. Did it take a lot of pressure off to birdie the first hole today?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, of course, not just because I had a birdie but I had a birdie on the first hole, and I holed quite a long one on the first hole. I've never really had that.
Q. Did you take a water bottle into the lake with you?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I did. That was for my dad. My mental coach yesterday, he actually bought a ticket to come yesterday, and he was on his way to the airport. Believe it or not, he was on the way, and packed his bags. I really stopped him because if he came, I would want to win so bad, but that might be on my mind playing today.
Q. Going into the round what was your approach with such a big lead over really one competitor?
INBEE PARK: I never really played conservative all day until the last hole. The last hole I played conservative because I wanted to finish with a par, and that's what I did. All day I really tried to play aggressive, and So Yeon, she was playing very good today, and who knows how many birdies she was going to make, so I had to do my best. Q. So Yeon told us that she has a lot of practice games and bets with you. Does that actually help you and how is your friendship between Korean players?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, it is always good to play with somebody that always plays good. So Yeon is a very consistent player and a very good friend. We probably have at least once or twice dinner together every week, and our friendship is very strong. So Yeon told me this morning that I want to see you jumping into the water and I want you to win, and she was the one chasing me, so that felt very good. I told So Yeon after we played, I told her, you're playing good today.
Q. How long have you known your fiancÚ, and how were you able to talk your family into letting you get married at such a young age? Most of the fathers out here don't want their children to be thinking about anything but golf in their 20s.
INBEE PARK: Well, they are really supportive of me, and they are really they really respect what I'm thinking, and I told them that I want to travel with him, and he was a very good coach, and he was very helpful with my swing. My parents just were really supportive.
Q. Having him as your coach, does that ever present problems where you don't want him to be your coach, you want him to be your fiancÚ?
INBEE PARK: Well, he's actually doing a good job on the coach side, so we've never really had problems with that.
Q. Do you consider yourself a good swimmer? Do you like water?
INBEE PARK: I like water. I'm a good swimmer.
Q. In between your victory at the 2008 U.S. Women's Open and last year's Evian Masters you played 72 tournaments between your first and second win. In your last 16 starts you've won four times. How do you explain that?
INBEE PARK: I didn't know that, but I mean, that's a very good story and very good result. That tells me that my game has improved a lot over the years, especially at this stage. I think every tournament that I play in I feel like I learn something and try to take that lesson to the next game. That's been very helpful.
Q. How does your putting in this tournament compare to some of the best putting in your career?
INBEE PARK: Well, at the Evian Masters last year I putted I think very similar to this week. Whenever I've won I believe I've putted very well, like this week. I rarely go over 30 putts per round for the regular tournaments. So over 30 putts for me is a lot for me.
Q. At any point this week did you think about how you might jump into Poppie's Pond if you won?
INBEE PARK: Well, I didn't really think about it because whenever I try to think too far forward, that makes me want it so bad, and that brings a lot of different things, and I just try not to think about the win.
Q. What were the thoughts going through your head as you teed off on 18?
INBEE PARK: Well, I was just thinking how am I going to enjoy this moment? I really enjoyed it.
Q. Just for clarification, the bottle of water for your dad, is that a keepsake or is it doused over his head?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, when I see him next week in Hawaii I'm going to pour it over him. Yeah, that's what he wanted.
Q. Is it true that you were concerned coming here because you're a low ball hitter and you didn't know how good your chances were going to be?
INBEE PARK: Well, because I'm really never afraid of the wind because my ball flight is low. I knew around this golf course it always gets windy in the afternoon, so I was just very confident coming this week, especially with my swing.
Q. You were really young when you won the U.S. Women's Open. Can you talk about how this victory feels compared to that one? And what will you do with the robe?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, the first win in 2008, I was very young. I didn't really - I don't think I even feel that much pressure on the final round because I didn't know what I was doing. It just came to me as a present. But this week I really felt nervous, and I knew what I was playing for. I really handled myself good under pressure, so that's something I'm very proud of. What was the second question?
Q. Do you have a special place for this robe?
INBEE PARK: It'll be in my house in Korea.
Q. I heard that your parents actually went to the airport to cheer you on and come here but you didn't want them to come because it would be too much pressure and it would probably even make you greedy for the cup. And then with your fiancÚ I heard that you guys are planning to have a date after you win your major this year, so you accomplished that, so are you guys planning to get married this year?
INBEE PARK: Well, I don't think I - where did you hear that from, because after the major I don't think we were thinking about either at the end of this year or probably next year, but didn't really set an exact date. I think when the time comes - there's no rush for the wedding. I'm really happy traveling with him as a fiancÚ, too.
Yeah, my parents - actually my mom was staying all the time, and my dad just on his own, he wanted to come. He packed his bags and booked a ticket and everything, and he was on his way. I called him and like said, just don't come. He was very mad because he really wanted to come. But really it was tough stopping him, but he actually listened to me, and I'm glad that I won today.
Q. As you reflect on this win and the fact that five of the last eight majors, five have been by Koreans, can you kind of look back a little bit at your roots in the game and Se Ri's influence on you?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, not just me but a lot of the kids in my age, they were inspired by Se Ri, and she was yeah, and she was the role model for us growing up. She was very big in Korea, and she was actually the first woman that actually played professional golf in the U.S., and she won a lot of tournaments.
INBEE PARK: Yeah, they're there every week, and it's always good to have a lot of friends together and competing against each other, improving together.
Q. So Yeon mentioned that you planned to play 32 events this year. Could you talk about playing a heavy schedule and just with all the travel and playing a lot in Japan and moving back and forth?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I really like playing a lot of tournaments instead of having a lot of weeks off because that way I really get my rhythm going for the tournament. I'm not a big practice player. I try to relax on tournament weeks, too, and I at least take Monday or Monday and Tuesday off.
Q. A common thing that has been said over the past couple days is that Inbee Park does not miss shots. What is your reaction to that?
INBEE PARK: Well, this week I don't think I missed many shots. That's very true. But I'm a human, and I miss shots, too. But this week has been very nearly perfect.
Q. You bogeyed No.10. What was your thought process after that bogey, and did you ever look at the leaderboard at any time?
INBEE PARK: Yeah, I looked at the leaderboard all the time. I mean, I looked at it on No.9, looked at it on 11, 12. I looked at it everywhere. I knew that So Yeon was playing very good, and after No.10 bogey, I felt like I had to go out there and make a couple more birdies, and I really tried to push myself.
Q. Your second major championship. How good does it feel?
INBEE PARK: It feels very good. It has been a while since I won a major, and this is my second major of my career, and it feels very special. This week I played very solid. Today and all week I played very good. Just happy that I have another major under my belt, and just looking forward to it.
Q. Talk about the first hole, you birdied, she doubled. A three shot swing. Did that change your mindset?
INBEE PARK: Well, that made my day much easier, that's for sure. I holed a long one on the first hole, and a birdie start is always a good thing, and I never really shot over par starting with the birdie, so that gave me a lot of confidence.
Q. Just talk about overall you're having a great year, it's your second win. Does this help you this year? You've moved to No. 2 in the Rolex rankings now. Does this help you with your confidence moving forward?
INBEE PARK: Well, I haven't really thought that far forward. Yeah, I've played five tournaments on the LPGA Tour, and I've won two of them, which is a very good start. It's pressure off me for the rest of the season. I'm just going to go out there and enjoy the season.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.