The LPGA Tour Hall of Fame member captured a five-stroke win at Aviara Golf Club on Sunday, to match the largest margin of victory in her storied career. She finished at -14 overall to take home a 2021 Kia Sorento, the first car that Park has ever won from a tournament.
“Everybody asks me like, ‘Do you still get nervous?’ Yes, of course. ‘But you look so comfortable. Are you comfortable?’ I’m like no, what do you expect?,” said a smiling Park, who carded a final-round 70. “What is special about this week is I always love to play [the Kia Classic] and I have played really, really well on this golf course but I was never able to win. I looked at the trophy before the final round and thought I almost had it a couple of times. Finally being able to win is a relief and it is a beautiful trophy.”
Making her 11th appearance in Carlsbad, Calif., Park earned her first title at the Kia Classic. It’s also the first wire-to-wire win (without ties) of her LPGA Tour career.
She joins LPGA Tour Founder Marilynn Smith at No. 25 on the all-time wins list and moves within four of matching Se Ri Pak as the winningest player from the Republic of Korea in LPGA Tour history. It is also the second title for Park in her season debut (2013 Honda LPGA Thailand) and the second event she has won the week before a major championship, joining the 2013 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and the following week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s a big honor to put my name next to someone like Marilynn Smith, a Founder on the LPGA,” said Park, who passes the $17 million threshold in career earnings with $17,003,925. “I’m going to try and keep playing my best to follow her footsteps.
“She [Se Ri Pak] gave a lot of courage to women golfers in Korea that we can compete out on the LPGA. Being able to do things that follow her steps is always a great honor. Growing up, I definitely looked at Se Ri as one of my top players to look up to. It’s always a good vibe going into the major tournament.”
Amy Olson signed for a bogey-free 68 in the final round to tie for second with Lexi Thompson, who used five birdies on Sunday to shoot 3-under 69 and finish 9-under for the Kia Classic. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko finished alone in fourth at -8 overall.
“I had a good warmup I think, so I’m looking forward to the ANA,” said Ko, the 2019 ANA Inspiration champion. “I had great rounds the last four days. Before this week, I practice four, five days and stayed a week at the Mission Hills. I saw my name on the bridge and believed I could win [again] on the course.”
Seven shots back of Park were Hyo Joo Kim and Minjee Lee to round out the top-five competitors. Local favorite Haley Moore carded a final-round 71 and the Escondido, Calif., native tied for 33rd for her LPGA career-best finish. Stacy Lewis carded a 7-under 65 for the round of the day to finish tied for seventh.
Ariya Jutanugarn, playing her first tournament in 2021, signed off with an even par for a total three under-par for joint 21st.
AMY OLSON RIDING HIGH AS SHE HEADS TO THE DESERT
The 2018 ANA Inspiration was Amy Olson’s first truly big moment on the LPGA Tour stage. Then in her fifth year on Tour, Olson played in the final group on Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club’s Dinah Shore Tournament Course before fading down the stretch. Since then, she’s come tantalizingly close to a first victory on multiple occasions, including runner-up finishes at the 2018 Evian Championship and the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open.
This week’s Kia Classic added yet another runner-up finish to Olson’s resume. The North Dakota native carded a bogey-free 68 on Sunday to tie for second with Lexi Thompson at -9, five strokes behind a dominant Inbee Park. Perhaps it’s just the kick she needs to finally get that elusive first victory next week as the Tour heads two hours Northeast to the Coachella Valley and the 2021 ANA Inspiration.
“I'm really happy with where my game is,” said Olson, who bases in the Palm Desert area for much of the offseason. “(Coach) Ron (Stockton) and I have continued to fine tune my swing. I have a new putter in the bag this week and I'm going to keep that going I think next week. So just always tweaking. Just feels like it's always nerve ending journey, but I'm pleased with where I am right now.”
If nothing else, Olson can look to this week as the site of an amazing personal comeback. Olson opened with a 3-over 75 on Thursday and was +6 through 32 holes. Through hard work, and some quiet assistance from her caddie Taneka Mackey, Olson played the final 40 holes at -11 to earn the runner-up finish.
“(Taneka) is such a steady influence on me. You know, you could never tell how I'm playing by looking at her. I got pretty hot on Friday after I tripled hole 14 and she just like absorbs it and just keeps moving,” said Olson. “And then when I'm playing great she's steady as can be. That's just so helpful to have in your teammate.”
STACY LEWIS AND LEXI THOMPSON CARRY MOMENTUM OVER THE MOUNTAINS TO MISSION HILLS
Sure, you have horses for courses. But you also have those who come in running well.
With Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson, you have both. Driving over the mountains from Carlsbad to Rancho Mirage for the first major championship of the 2021 season, the ANA Inspiration, Lewis and Thompson arrive at a golf course they know and love, and one where they have had remarkable success. And they get there playing well.
Just look at the numbers. Lewis, who won the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course in 2011 for her first career victory, has had four top-10s at Mission Hills since then, including a playoff loss to Brittany Lincicome in 2015 and a fifth-place finish last fall.
In terms of coming in hot, Lewis reeled off eight birdies on Sunday at the Kia Classic, including two separate stretches on the back nine where she made three birdies in a row. Her final-round 65 was, in her words, “definitely the best round of golf I've ever played here.”
“I love being in San Diego,” Lewis said. “I have family out here, so it’s just a fun week for me. I love the weather this year, the weather was perfect this year, so that made it even better. And it was a really cool way to finish, just to have some momentum and start seeing the ball go in the hole.
“Obviously, I’m really excited for next week.”
Lewis’ last victory came in crisp temperatures at the 2020 Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open. Before that, she won in Portland.
Temperatures in Palm Springs on Sunday hit 88 and are expected to be in the 90s early in the week.
“I love it,” Lewis said of this two-week stretch in California. “I love the drive over. It's like my favorite time of year just knowing we're going to Palm Springs. Honestly, (Mission Hills) is probably one of my favorite golf courses we get to play all year, to be in the desert where it's hot, and the ball is bouncing, and it plays hard.
“I hope it's playing firm like it was here (at Aviara), and I think we'll have a pretty great leaderboard at the end of the week.”
To read the full story from Steve Eubanks on LPGA.com, visit:
CME GROUP CARES CHALLENGE—SCORE 1 FOR ST. JUDE
The CME Group Cares Challenge is a season-long charitable giving program that turns aces into donations. CME Group donated $20,000 for each hole-in-one made on the LPGA Tour in 2020, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $500,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is leading the way in how the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and life-threatening diseases.
Haeji Kang made the first hole-in-one of the 2021 LPGA Tour season on Friday, as she found the bottom of the cup on No. 11 with an 8-iron from 154 yards. Shortly after, Xiyu Lin recorded another hole-in-one with a 52-degree wedge from 92 yards at No. 3. The two aces mean a total of $40,000 has been donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital so far in 2021.
The 2020 LPGA Tour season saw 13 aces from 13 different players, while the 2019 campaign had 32 total aces from 31 different competitors for a total of $620,000. That more than covered the average cost of $425,000 needed to treat a pediatric cancer patient. Through four tournaments so far in the 2021 LPGA Tour season, two holes-in-one have been made.
Rolex Rankings No. 4 Inbee Park (66-69-69-70)
Published : March 29, 2021