HSBC Women’s Champions 2017

Golf: Thumbs up for Park's putting clinic

Despite doubts over her form after her hand injury, she becomes 1st two-time champ here

Standing over a one-foot putt on the 18th green to win the HSBC Women's Champions yesterday, Park In Bee was mentally pinching herself in disbelief.

Yes, she has won seven Major titles, claimed Olympic gold last year in Rio de Janeiro and spent 92 weeks between 2013 and 2015 as the world No. 1.

But the tournament at the Sentosa Golf Club was just her second competitive start since spending six months on the sidelines recovering from a thumb injury. Despite competing in Thailand the previous week, she was unsure if her body, mind and game were ready.

All were in perfect sync as the South Korean closed with a brilliant eight-under 64 for a 19-under 269 winning score. She finished one clear of world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, who shot 66 and was second on 270 at the US$1.5 million (S$2.12 million) event.

Park, 28, said: "It surprised me because I thought it would take maybe a couple of months to get my rhythm back. It was a very consistent ball-striking week and there are a lot of birdie opportunities out there. I was able to convert many of them today."

She entered the final round trailing overnight leader Michelle Wie by three strokes and caught fire from the fifth hole with a birdie. Park's Odyssey 2-Ball putter was her primary weapon as she sank birdies on the sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th and 17th to pull away from the elite 63-player field.

South Korean Park In Bee hitting a shot at the New Tanjong course's 11th hole yesterday. She went on to make one of nine birdies in her final round at the par-four hole and lift the HSBC Women's Champions trophy.
South Korean Park In Bee hitting a shot at the New Tanjong course’s 11th hole yesterday. She went on to make one of nine birdies in her final round at the par-four hole and lift the HSBC Women’s Champions trophy. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The only blemish on her card yesterday was a bogey on the par-four 18th. She needed 27 strokes on the greens, six fewer than Saturday, and said: "My putting was amazing today. I was just in that zone. Today was pretty much everything I looked at, it wanted to drop in."

The hundreds in the gallery following her around the New Tanjong course may have been spellbound but not Ariya, who played alongside Park in the penultimate flight. The 21-year-old Thai told The Straits Times: "It wasn't a surprise. In Bee's the best putter out there, even with so little practice. It felt like she did not miss a single putt today."

How Wie must have wished for some of that magic. The surprise frontrunner - her last win was the 2014 US Women's Open - had built up a two-shot lead after birdies on the third and fourth holes but saw that advantage erased when she four-putted from 12 feet for a double-bogey seven on the fifth hole.

The American needed 33 putts - her worst tally for the week - and shot 72 to end tied-fourth alongside defending champion Jang Ha Na of South Korea (69) and Canada's Brooke Henderson (66) on 274.

While it was Wie's first top-five finish in 51 events, she admitted it stung a little bit. She added: "I was just a little amped up today and my irons were going a little bit further, so I just wasn't hitting them as close as I was all week... Sometimes you just four-putt and you've just got to carry on with your life."

World No. 1 Lydia Ko was also rueful. Despite the chants of "go Lydia go" from her supporters, she carded a 72 like Wie - both were the only players in the final top 24 who failed to break par - and never made a strong run up the leaderboard. The 19-year-old was joint-ninth on 276.

She said: "Just a lot wasn't clicking. Some of the pin positions today were gettable but my ball-striking wasn't able to match that."

In contrast, Park's aim was sublime all week. She missed only one fairway and was tied-first (64 out of 72) for greens in regulations.

This was her 18th LPGA Tour title and first since the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November 2015, the same year she first won the HSBC event. She is the only golfer to win the Singapore tournament twice.

Singapore's Amanda Tan, 18, closed with a 73 for 13-over 301 and was last. She collected US$3,663 in her first event as a full-time pro.

Aside from earning US$225,000 which pushes her past the US$13 million mark in career prize money, Park is projected to move from world No. 12 to No. 9.

Having her family share another triumphant Sunday was special.

"They probably did not expect me to win the trophy this week," she said. "They just came to cheer me on but I was able to give them something back, so it's great."

Perhaps the only surprise was her misestimation of the winning score.

She said with a laugh: "I told myself this morning someone would need 20 under to win. I guess 19 was enough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Thumbs up for Park's putting clinic'. Print Edition | Subscribe