Bishop Gorman product Park embraces top rank


ROGERS, Ark. — Inbee Park took a week of rest and relaxation after her last tournament. She earned it.

The LPGA’s top-ranked golfer, who has turned the tour into a personal showcase of sorts this year, was last seen two weeks ago — walking away after a grueling 39-hole final day at the LPGA Championship.

A Bishop Gorman High product, Park outlasted Catriona Matthew in a three-hole playoff to win her second major championship of the year, and secure her standing as the world’s best player. The win was yet another reminder of just how far she has come in the last year, from 26th in the world rankings to six wins in her last 22 starts — including four victories this year.

Park will tee off today at the NW Arkansas Championship after a week in Florida with fellow South Korean Na Yeon Choi, a much-needed bit of rest after the difficult LPGA Championship win.

“Two weeks ago at the (LPGA Championship) was a very tough Sunday, and I was really exhausted after the round,” Park said. “I feel very refreshed now coming here this week after a week of break, and I feel ready to go again.”

This week’s tournament, in its sixth year as a tour stop, features 97 of the top 100 players on the money list — a standout field leading into next week’s U.S. Open. Ai Miyazato won the event last year at Pinnacle Country Club, shooting a final-round 65 to overcome a five-shot deficit for the second win of her career.

Park finished in a tie for fourth at the NW Arkansas Championship last year, beginning a stretch of 10 straight top-10 finishes. The run included a win at the Evian Masters, her first victory since the U.S. Open in 2008, and served as a precursor to a 2013 that has been nothing short of spectacular.

She opened the year with a victory in Thailand before winning the second major of her career at the Nabisco Championship in early April. That moved Park ahead of Stacy Lewis and into the top spot in the rankings, and she’s taken control with two more wins and more than $1.2 million in earnings this year.

“I feel more pressure than before, of course,” Park said. “I always thought that I was very fortunate to actually play for No. 1 every week, and I think that’s something very special and I think that’s something that I really need to take positive. No. 1 is a tough spot, but I’ve just got to try to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Park will compete for the spotlight this week with local favorite Lewis, who played collegiately at nearby Arkansas.

Lewis, a Texas native, ascended to the top spot in the rankings following back-to-back wins earlier this year. She is still No. 2 and third on the money list with nearly $750,000 in earnings, but even she conceded that it’s been difficult to concentrate on her own game while Park has left the field in her wake.

“You’re definitely watching what she’s doing, because she’s doing something special,” Lewis said. “Inbee’s played great this year. It’s a little frustrating because I feel like I’ve played really well, but it’s gotten overshadowed quite a bit by what she’s done.”

Lewis earned an unofficial win as an amateur at the NW Arkansas Championship in 2007, an event that was shortened to one round due to rain. Since then, she has struggled near her adopted home, finishing in an average of 23rd place.

 

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