South Korean great Park In-bee joined an illustrious group as a 20-time LPGA Tour winner Sunday with a commanding victory at the Australian Open — her first title in almost two years.
The seven-time major champion took a three-stroke lead into the final day at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club over Korean teenager Ayean Cho and despite a late wobble was never seriously threatened.
She stroked a one-over-par 74 in difficult, windy conditions to claim her first Australian Open by three shots from American Amy Olsen (70), and four ahead of France’s Perrine Delacour (73).
Cho shot a 77 to end six off the lead.
“It was a tough day out there today, really different from the last days,” she said after throwing her arms in the air and being showered with champagne by fellow Korean players on the 18th.
“It has been a thrill to play this week. The moment I came here and saw this golf course I fell in love with it.
“Whether I played good or not I knew I was going to have a fantastic time,” she added. “I really enjoyed myself out there.”
It was Park’s 20th career title, joining an exclusive club to achieve the feat including Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and South Korean trailblazer Pak Se-Ri.
The 31-year-old has endured injuries and travel fatigue in recent times and it was her first win since the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in mid-March 2018.
But she is now back in the winners’ circle as she chases a spot on the Korean team for the Tokyo Olympics this year so she can defend the gold medal she won at the Rio Games four years ago.
Only the world’s top 15 are automatically eligible for Tokyo, with a limit of four from each country. As of this week, she was sixth in the Korean pecking order.
Usually inscrutable, the former world number one, now ranked 17, couldn’t stop grinning and wiped a tear away as she walked to the scorer’s tent and the feat sunk in.
Making it extra special was having long-time caddie, Australian Brad Beecher, on her bag.
“I’ve been working with him for 14 years… being able to present him with the trophy (in his home country) is a great present for him,” she said.
At one point on the front nine, Park’s lead was five shots but bogeys at the ninth, 14th and 16th brought her back to the field, and Liu Yu made a run that narrowed the margin to three.
But as the young Chinese attacked the final holes, she stumbled with bogeys at the last three while Park steadied, making a birdie on the 17th and a par on the 18th to ensure victory.
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