Inbee Park’s playoff birdie earns NW Arkansas victory

With her NW Arkansas victory on Sunday, Inbee Park has now won five times in 2013.
Getty Images

ROGERS, Ark. (AP) – Inbee Park took some time off for rest and relaxation last week following her win at the LPGA Championship.

The world No. 1 looked every bit at ease on her way to a second straight win – her fifth of the year – on Sunday at the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship.

Park sank a 4-foot birdie on the first playoff hole against So Yeon Ryu , capping her final-round rally and once again reminding the golf world who is clearly in control of the LPGA Tour this year.

Sunday's win was Park's second straight in a playoff, following her final-day 39-hole effort at the PGA Championship. It came after she began the day two shots back of a group of four leaders, each who fell by the wayside as the South Korean took control at Pinnacle Country Club on her way to her seventh win in her last 23 starts.

That kind of success that has led to Park's meteoric rise from 26th in the world rankings a year ago to the unquestioned top player leading into next week's U.S. Open.

“I've won a lot of times this year, but I still feel the pressure coming into the final round every time,'' Park said. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure in the playoff. I think that's going to happen no matter how many times I win.

“It gets more exciting and more exciting, that's for sure.''

After opening with a 2-under 69 on Friday, Park vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with three straight birdies on the front nine on Sunday. She dropped a shot with a bogey on the par-3 11th before birdies on 14 and 18 sent her to the playoff.

Park and Ryu finished the tournament tied at 12 under, one shot ahead of Mika Miyazato. It's the second straight year Miyazato has finished as the runner-up.

Amateur Lydia Ko, I.K. Kim and local favorite and world No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who played at nearby University of Arkansas, each finished two shots back.

After Park sank an 8-foot birdie putt on her final hole of regulation to reach 12 under, Ryu followed with a birdie of her own on the par-5 18th to match her fellow South Korean, good friend and practice partner.

Ryu, however, knew early on Sunday that she faced a difficult task against the hottest player on the LPGA Tour.

“I think everybody's scared of Inbee because she's playing super well (the) last 12 months, even more, like 14 months,'' Ryu said. “… So, if her name is top on the leaderboard, she makes everybody really nervous.''

In the playoff, which took place on No. 18, Park appeared calm throughout – finding the fairway off the tee and nearly reaching the green in two before chipping her third shot within 4 feet.

That put pressure on Ryu to hole a chip for birdie from just off the back of the green – a chip she narrowly missed. Park then calmly sank her birdie putt to end the tournament and once again find herself a winner.

It's a familiar spot for the player who has already become just the seventh player in LPGA Tour history to win the first two majors of the season. She can become just the second to win the first three next week at the U.S. Open.

“When I was playing the playoff, it just feels like a practice round because I always play with (Ryu) on the practice rounds,'' Park said. “Especially having played in the playoff a week before, I mean that really felt like normal to me that I (had) to go to a playoff.''

Ryu, No. 5 in the world and 2001 U.S. Open winner, led at 12 under midway through the round. However, she four-putted the par-4 13th for a double bogey.

She pulled back to 11 under with a birdie on the par-3 17th before answering Park's final-hole birdie on the 18th.

Park looked every bit like the top-ranked player in the world on Sunday. She began the day at 8 under, then quickly jumped to the top of the leaderboard with Ryu after three straight birdies on the front nine. Park also saved par out of a fairway bunker on the par-4 ninth.

Lewis began the day as the co-leader and local favorite, with a gallery full of Arkansas fans following her every shot. But she stumbled with a double bogey on the par-5 seventh. After driving in the bunker, she took two shots out of the greenside bunker before missing a short bogey putt.

Lewis bounced back with birdies on the next two holes to once again reach 10 under. She later missed birdie putts on 11 and 12 and was unable to get closer than one shot, dropping out of contention after back-to-back bogeys and on 15 and 16.

“I'm pretty disappointed,'' Lewis said. “You know, I had one bad swing on seven, but really other than that I played pretty solid. … I don't really know, going back, what I would do much different.''

Lewis was ranked No. 1 earlier this year after consecutive wins, a spot she vacated after Park began her run of success.

It's that same kind of success she hopes to take into next week.

“The course is just going to be the toughest golf course we play all year,'' Park said. “I always love the challenge, so I'm looking forward to that.''