Inbee Park in a class of her own
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Sometimes a couple rounds of golf can be misleading, or too small a sample size off which to make judgments. But other times, that's more than enough to accurately tell the story.
The players at 1, 2 and 3 in the women's golf world rankings -- South Korea's Inbee Park, American Stacy Lewis and Norway's Suzann Pettersen -- were grouped together at the U.S. Women's Open for the opening two rounds. And right now, it's clear that No. 1 is quite a bit ahead of the other two.
Even Lewis was impressed.
"It's frustrating because she [Park] is not exactly knocking the flags down," Lewis said, "but she is making putts off the edge of the green, ones that you wouldn't expect her to make. It's definitely frustrating for us watching."
As the fog rolled into Sebonack Golf Club on Friday night, Park rolled in yet another birdie putt. The decreased visibility didn't bother her; heck, a blindfold might not have. That 12-footer put her at 4-under 68 for the day and 9-under 135 for the tournament, giving her the clubhouse lead with 41 players still on the course.
Fellow South Korean I.K. Kim is 2 shots back at 7-under 137 after a 69. American Lizette Salas, who shot even-par 72, is at 4-under 140.
"It was great; I hit the ball so good today," Park said. "I didn't miss many shots out there. It really made me think today, with the wind and fog, this is what the U.S. Open is all about."
The horn sounded to suspend play just after Park, Lewis and Pettersen had teed off on No. 18, a gorgeous closing hole that hugs the Great Peconic Bay but was becoming invisible with the fog. They were able to finish, which was especially good for Pettersen, considering she looked as if she'd mentally boarded her flight out after a few holes Friday.
With a 6-over 78, Pettersen finished at 10-over 154, a chasm-like 19 shots behind Park. She bolted after signing her card, clearly ready to put the 2013 Women's Open in her rearview mirror as quickly as possible. The cut wasn't officially set because the second round will have to be finished early Saturday morning, but Pettersen is nowhere near it.
Meanwhile, Lewis -- who was briefly No. 1 earlier this year, taking over that spot from Yani Tseng -- had to grind away Friday, and she's at least going to be playing during the weekend.
But she's effectively out of contention after a 4-over 76 left her at 3-over 147, 12 shots behind Park.
"Inbee -- she's played so good the last two days that she is going to be tough to catch if you are not already under par," Lewis said. "I'm going to try to come out and get back under par for the week and see what I can do."
Lewis has two victories this year and entered the Women's Open coming off a tie for fourth at the NW Arkansas Championship last week. She didn't think she played too poorly Thursday or Friday here, but she just didn't score.
"I feel like [my game] is really not that far off with this golf course the way it is," Lewis said. "It just shows it when you hit it a little off. I missed it in places where you are not going to get an up-and-down. That's the big thing -- you can't hit it in those places.
"A couple of those were good shots that went too far, so I don't really know what to do there. And I've got to make more putts."
If Lewis felt as if she was not quite close enough on many holes, Pettersen might have wished she could have started the whole week over. Nothing went right for her.
Pettersen has four top-10 finishes at the Women's Open, including a tie for ninth last year. This season, she tied for third at both previous majors, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and the LPGA Championship earlier this month. At the latter, she closed with a final-round 65 that displayed what she is like at her best.
But Sebonack seemed to bring out her worst. Before the tournament, Pettersen had said of the course, "The first time I saw this, I was almost overwhelmed by how tricky it was. But the more you play it, the more you fall in love with it."
Suffice to say, it was a short-lived love affair. In 2013, Pettersen has one victory and nearly another, losing in a playoff. But her game just wasn't there for this Women's Open, an event that's been won by only one European -- Sweden's Annika Sorenstam -- in the past 15 years.
South Koreans have won the Women's Open four of the past five years, with Park starting that streak in 2008 when she was just 19. Now 24, she looks extremely confident standing over just about any putt that's conceivably makeable. And a few that aren't.
She made birdie putts of 6, 30, 15, 20, 1 and 12 feet Friday. She wasn't able to get up and down on the fifth hole and bogeyed that. And on the no-margin-for-error par-3 seventh hole, she missed her 7-footer for par.
Park acknowledged afterward, "I think I could have shot a 65 today if my putter was really going. But 4-under is, I think, good enough for this golf course."
Lewis and Pettersen didn't get to be ranked second and third for nothing; they are very talented. But for the past two days, they got an up-close view of the tour's best player now.
For them as competitors trying to beat Park, it wasn't a pretty picture. For viewers, though, it's fun to watch as Park calmly stares at just about anything on the green with the idea that she really can knock it in. No. 1 is more than living up to her billing so far.