Inbee Park clinging to hope after 73
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- After her first round at the Women's British Open, world No. 1 Inbee Park mentioned that confidence was everything when it came to getting out of the bunkers here at the Old Course. Once doubt crept in, she said, you weren't going to be able to make a play from your sand punishment. You gotta believe you can escape the hole.
That's exactly how Park needs to approach the rest of this tournament. She's not in an impossible lie, but she'll have to scrap and claw -- and maybe get some good luck -- to come out on top.
Park shot a 1-over 73 in Friday's second round, which leaves her at 2 under for the tournament and tied for 22nd. She's 8 shots back of her good friend and South Korean countrywoman Na Yeon Choi, who leads at 10-under 134.
"I feel like 1 over in these conditions isn't that bad," Park said of the howling afternoon winds that had gusts up to 35 mph. "You just never really know what's going to happen the next two days. Especially if the conditions get tougher, I think anything could happen.
"I would say I want [the wind] to blow and conditions to be tough [this weekend] because I'm so far back. I need to narrow the gap."
The conditions at St. Andrews were quite good for the morning rounds, with players averaging scores 1.6 strokes lower than in the afternoon. Japan's Miki Saiki put up the day's best round, a 6-under 66 that included two eagles.
"Did she hole out twice?" Stacy Lewis asked reporters later, after she'd finished her round of 72. Assured that Saiki had indeed done that, Lewis added, "That's golf for you. But I think anybody under par is not out of it."
"She's not out of it," said Lewis, who is at 5 under and tied for eighth. "It depends on the weather."
If conditions are consistent and good through the weekend -- this is Scotland, so don't bet on it -- the chance of Park climbing while others back up seems unlikely. But the worse the weather, the better the odds of a comeback. Especially since Park may now actually feel looser than she has all week.
"When you're behind," she said, "you feel a little bit less pressure. But you have to play harder to get up there [to the lead]."
Park had one of those rounds Friday that was like an older car on a winter morning. You get it going a little, and then it stops. You start it up again, it dies. You coax it, you push it, you plead with it.
Park wasn't able to get anything, scoringwise, out of the day. She started with a bogey, then evened out with a birdie on No. 6, making the turn right where she began, at 3 under. Then it was time to head home, right into the teeth of the wind.
"The back nine was playing difficult," said Paula Creamer, who shot even-par 72 playing one group ahead of Park and, at 4 under, is tied for 13th.
Park started the back nine with a bogey, then looked as if she might get something going with a birdie on No. 12 and a good tee shot on No. 13. But that didn't materialize; to the contrary, she bogeyed the 13th.
To her credit, though, Park didn't collapse. She made par saves on Nos. 14, 15 and 16. Then came another bogey on No. 17, the Road Hole. She did have a positive finish, at least, with a birdie on No. 18.
Coming into the Women's British, several of her fellow players wondered if Park ever felt nervous. She confirmed after her first round that she did and said Friday that it had continued into the second round.
The last two days I’ve had here, [there are] a lot of great moments I’ve collected. If I can handle this kind of pressure, I’m not afraid of anything in my career from now on.Inbee Park
Rather than lament that, Park showed a wonderful sense of perspective.
"The last two days I've had here, [there are] a lot of great moments I've collected," she said. "If I can handle this kind of pressure, I'm not afraid of anything in my career from now on."
Park has been learning on the fly how to deal with so much hoopla. Remember, she had won only one major title -- the 2008 U.S. Women's Open -- coming into 2013. When this year started, she wasn't No. 1. That was still Yani Tseng. She wasn't the reigning LPGA Player of the Year. That was Lewis.
Park wasn't in any way the focus of the LPGA Tour; she was a good young player who was expected to be in contention consistently. That's a far cry from the spotlight she's been in since winning her third consecutive major at the U.S. Women's Open on June 30.
Her rapid move up the LPGA ladder began in earnest in April, when she won the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, and she later took over the top spot in the world rankings.
At the LPGA Championship in early June, she trailed by 2 shots after two rounds and then prevailed on a Sunday that featured 36 regulation holes and three playoff holes. Still, there wasn't a huge buzz about Park outside of the golf world until she firmly began knocking on history's door with her victory at Sebonack Country Club.
The naturally shy young woman, who just turned 25 in July, has had to deal with what she called the "awkwardness" of suddenly being the center of attention. But she's embraced it. To witness it in person, to see how willing she has been to push beyond her normal comfort zone, has been incredible and heartwarming.
And she hasn't complained about any of it. To the contrary, when asked how she was dealing with the different demands on her time and the attention, Park said, "This is pretty much the only week I'm going to get that much, so I should enjoy this moment.
"It comes with good playing and great results. So I'm happy with it."
Grand Slam or not, Park has had a memorable year. And she's not throwing in the towel yet on this tournament.
Hey, it's the Women's British Open. It's St. Andrews. Weird stuff happens here. The wind can blow in all different directions at all times of day. Maybe it's still going to blow some more magic toward Park.