Golf: Park In Bee covets summit

British pop band Take That are scheduled to perform on Saturday night after the HSBC Women's Champions' third round but yesterday, the fab four of (from left) Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Park In Bee and Feng Shanshan were the ones hamming it up. There h
British pop band Take That are scheduled to perform on Saturday night after the HSBC Women's Champions' third round but yesterday, the fab four of (from left) Lexi Thompson, Lydia Ko, Park In Bee and Feng Shanshan were the ones hamming it up.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Having lost her No. 1 ranking thrice, she's determined to chase down Ko to be top again

Last year, Park In Bee landed the first blow in her burgeoning rivalry with Lydia Ko by capturing the HSBC Women's Champions with a flawless performance at the Sentosa Golf Club (SGC).

The South Korean won that battle between the world's top two golfers but the war went decidedly in favour of the teenager from New Zealand. Ko bagged the bulk of the year-end LPGA Tour awards and ended the season atop the world rankings for the first time, thus denying Park a hat-trick.

Both women, each with five titles last year, have returned to the Serapong Course knowing a victory on Sunday will lay down a psychological marker for the rest of the campaign.

 

Park, 27, has been in this position before, ascending to the top and then knocked off her perch.

"I want to go back to No. 1 and become the best player in the world."

She and Ko ruled the roost for much of last year. They combined for 10 wins, including three Majors, out of the 32 events from January to November and only in July did neither of them lift a trophy.

DOING EVEN BETTER

Last year was amazing for me but I know I have to keep trying to do better and improving.

LYDIA KO, women's world No. 1 golfer, on her stellar season last year.

American Stacy Lewis did it in June 2014 and Ko did so in February last year but the Seoul native rebounded on both occasions to reclaim the No. 1 spot.

A fourth stint at the summit is her main goal for this campaign, Park, a seven-time Major winner, said.

GIVING HER ALL

I'll be doing everything in my power to hold on to my title... The stage is set and I'm ready to go.

PARK IN BEE, on defending her HSBC Women's Champions title.

That yesterday's photo shoot at Serapong involved the pair plus Lexi Thompson (world No. 3) and Feng Shanshan (No. 9) and saw the women ham it up as a rock band with British pop band Take That's hit Rule The World playing in the background was not lost on Park.

She told The Straits Times: "What we did last year was pretty special. We separated ourselves from the rest. We won almost a third of the tournaments and that's a lot."

  • HSBC Women's Champions

  • When Tomorrow to Sunday Where Sentosa Golf Club, Serapong Course

    Prize money US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million)

    Who An elite 63-woman field with 18 of the world's top 20 golfers, including Lydia Ko, Park In Bee, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.

    Tickets Daily from $20, season pass is $60. On sale through Sistic. Price does not include entry to the island or booking fees. Free entry for those aged 16 and below.

The level of hype has definitely gone up a few notches, noted Ko, who turns 19 next month and has spent her entire golfing life surpassing expectations.

"There was a lot of pressure even in my rookie year in 2014 and I did okay with three wins," she said.

"Last year was amazing for me but I know I have to keep trying to do better and improving. In Bee is so consistent, even when she's having a bad day it's still a pretty good round compared to other players."

Park's four rounds last year at SGC were anything but bad. She fired 15 birdies and crucially was the only player in the elite 63-woman field not to record a bogey over 72 holes. She finished two shots clear of second-placed Ko.

A victory at this week's US$1.5 million (S$2.11 million) event will make Park the first back-to-back winner since the event began in 2008.

It features 18 of the top 20 women golfers and former HSBC champions like Paula Creamer (2014), Angela Stanford (2012), Karrie Webb (2011) and Ai Miyazato (2010).

Park, who recently recovered from a back injury and rated her current condition at 80 per cent, said: "Hopefully I can keep that bogey-free streak going and maybe make 16 birdies this week as well."

Ko, whose season has already included a Ladies European Tour win at last month's ISPS Handa New Zealand Women's Open, was looking further down the calendar at the Olympics in Rio, where a gold medal would give the victor significant bragging rights.

Said the Kiwi: "I'd love to win it. This is the first time that golf has been back in the Olympics in more than a hundred years so it would be really special to be the first Olympic champion in my sport."

She and Park will be the favourites in Brazil, a position they will once again find themselves when they tee off tomorrow. Said Park: "I'll be doing everything in my power to hold on to my title... The stage is set and I'm ready to go."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'PARK COVETS SUMMIT'. Print Edition | Subscribe