Golf: Park In-bee lifts Olympic title defence hopes at Australian Open with halfway joint lead

In a file photo taken on August 31, 2018, South Korea's Park In-bee hits on the 13th hole during the second round of the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic.
In a file photo taken on August 31, 2018, South Korea's Park In-bee hits on the 13th hole during the second round of the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic.PHOTO: AFP

ADELAIDE (AFP) - Reigning Olympic champion Park In-bee vaulted into the joint lead at the LPGA Australian Open on Friday (Feb 14) in her quest to make South Korea's women's golf team for the Tokyo Games and defend her 2016 gold medal.

The seven-time Major winner and former world No. 1 carded a four-under 69 at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club, with England's Jodi Ewart Shadoff, the overnight leader, sinking birdies on the final two holes for a 70 to join her.

They are one clear of American LPGA Tour rookie Jillian Hollis and two ahead of South Korea's Ayean Cho and American Marina Alex.

Park has set an aggressive early-season schedule to try to climb the rankings and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Only the top 15 are automatically eligible for the Games, with a limit of four from each country. As of this week, she is sixth in the Korean pecking order and ranked 17th overall.

"It's probably tougher than getting a medal in the Olympics to make the team," the 31-year-old said ahead of the tournament.

"I probably have to win a couple of times early this season to try to make the team."

After missing the cut in her last two events, Park has finally found form in Adelaide to keep her dream alive, draining four birdies to no bogeys in her flawless round.

"A bogey-free round today was good. It was a little bit more calm this morning, so it was nice to play out there. My putting was consistent, like last couple of days," said the Korean legend.

"I just love the golf course and the atmosphere here. So hopefully I can pull it off on the weekend.

"It definitely gives me a lot of excitement being on the top of the leaderboard and being in contention in the weekend," she added. "That's the reason why I'm playing golf."

 

In contrast to the experienced Park, Hollis is in her first full season on the LPGA Tour and relishing being in contention going into the weekend.

"I've played a year on the Symetra Tour last year and learnt so much about my game and knew that winning my two tournaments that I won last year, that I had what it takes to play out here," she said.

"I'm just excited at that bigger stage, but still, it's golf and I'm just happy to be able to play and do what I love every day."