Golf: Park In-bee takes wire-to-wire LPGA Kia Classic win

Park In-bee holds the winners trophy after her victory at the Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California, on March 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Hall of Famer Park In-bee of South Korea fired a two-under 70 on Sunday (March 28) to win the Kia Classic by five strokes for her 21st career LPGA title.

Park, a seven-time Major winner and the 2016 Olympic champion, finished on 14-under 274 after 72 holes at Aviara, north of San Diego.

In her first event of the season, Park shocked herself and onlookers with an overpowering performance.

"It was a great week," Park said. "It was my first week back in three months or so. I played so good. I couldn't believe how well I was doing out there.

"I came here to prepare for next week and I exceeded (my expectations) - so much more."

Americans Lexi Thompson (69) and Amy Olson (68) shared second on 279. South Korean Ko Jin-young (70), the world No. 1, was fourth on 280 with South Korea's eighth-ranked Kim Hyo-joo (70) and 10th-ranked Australian Minjee Lee (72) shared fifth on 281.

Park, 32, was a wire-to-wire winner without ties for the first time in her LPGA career after leading by five strokes when the day began.

It was her first victory since last year's Women's Australian Open just before the LPGA shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Park moved four shy of matching legend Park Se-ri for the most career LPGA titles by a South Korean with 25.

"It's somebody I always looked up to growing up," Park said of her retired compatriot.

"She's always big in my heart. Trying to follow in her footsteps is a big thing. I'm glad I'm geting close."

World No. 4 Park dominated an event that featured the world's 14 top-ranked players, a final tune-up for the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA's first Major tournament of 2021, which starts on Thursday at Rancho Mirage, California.

She is currently in position to qualify for the South Korean women's Olympic team and a chance at defending her gold medal in Tokyo.

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