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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Inbee Park isn’t wasting any time getting her game ready for another run at an Olympic gold medal.
Even with an uncharacteristic mistake in Saturday’s finish, she showed her best form may not be far off.
The real challenge if she wants to collect another major championship or two on her way to Tokyo this summer is moving past all those young Koreans she inspired in her epic run to the LPGA Hall of Fame.
That’s the storyline laid out for Sunday’s conclusion to the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
With a 4-under 67, Park took sole possession of the lead at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando, but she has a formidable challenger chasing in fellow countrywoman Sei Young Kim. At 13 under, Park is two shots ahead of Kim, who wouldn’t allow Park to pull too far away, with Kim (67) making four birdies in a row on the back nine.
Before missing a 4-footer for par at the last, Park appeared to be intent on rolling back the clock to 2013. Her ball striking was exceptional, and she took advantage of most of the opportunities she gave herself, rolling in a bunch of birdie putts with that Odyssey White Hot Ice Sabertooth putter, the same model she used to win the first three majors in ’13.
It isn’t a two-woman race, though, with Nasa Hataoka (68) just three shots back and Celine Boutier (69) only four back.
“It was a really good day out there,” Park said. “My ball striking was flawless today. I wish my putter could have followed up a little bit. The three-putt on the last was a little disappointing.”
Park, a 19-time LPGA winner with seven major championship titles, hasn’t won since the Bank of Hope Founders Cup almost two years ago.
Both Kim and Hataoka have taken trophies from Park before.
Back in 2015, Kim beat Park in sensational fashion in a playoff at the Lotte Championship. That’s the year Kim hit her tee shot into the water at the end of regulation, only to chip in for an all-world par to force the playoff. Kim then holed out an 8-iron from 154 yards for eagle to win on the first sudden-death hole.
“She’s a very aggressive player, and she can make a lot of birdies,” said Park, 31, said. “I’ll just try to keep that in mind and try to follow up with her.”
Kim, 26, is riding some terrific momentum through the offseason. She won the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship and its $1.5 million check last year with a 25-foot birdie putt at the final hole.
“She’s a great player,” Kim said. “She’s a Hall of Famer.
“All the times I’ve played with her, it’s a good experience. I’ve learned a lot of things from her.”
Park has closed out with a 54-hole lead five of the last six times she has held one, 10 of the last 14 times. She couldn’t, however, hold off Hataoka at the Kia Classic in 2018. Park took a one-shot lead into the final round there, but Hataoka beat her by three.
Still looking for her first victory since turning 30, Park is eager for this chance to close out, to build momentum on her run up to the Olympics.
“I feel good about my game,” Park said. “So, hopefully I can keep this going.”