World No. 1 Inbee Park birdied the first playoff hole to defeat fellow South Korean Ryu So-yeon and win the LPGA Northwest Arkansas Championship for her fifth triumph of the season.
Park, who has captured the first two women’s major titles this year, took the US$300,000 top prize from the US$2 million event and a confidence boost from winning the 54-hole tuneup for this week’s third major, the US Women’s Open.
Park won major titles at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and the LPGA Championship earlier this month, defeating Britain’s Catriona Matthew on the third playoff hole to collect her second major of the year.
“It’s never getting easier,” Park said. “I’ve had playoffs the last couple weeks. It was really tough.”
Park’s other LPGA titles came in Thailand and the North Texas Shootout. In all she has won five of 14 LPGA Tour events so far this year.
If the 24-year-old from Seoul, who won the 2008 US Women’s Open, wins this week she will match Babe Zaharias from 1950 by taking the first three majors in a season.
While there were only three majors when Zaharias did it, Park would also need wins at the Women’s British Open, where she was second last year, and the Evian Championship, France, where she defends her title, to complete an LPGA Grand Slam.
“Everything has been going really well. I’ve been hitting the ball really good and putting amazing. Everything in my game is really coming together,” Park said.
Park and Ryu, the 2011 US Women’s Open champion who sank a 10-foot birdie putt at the 18th to force the playoff, each finished the 54 holes of regulation play on 12-under 201 and went back to the 18th tee to begin the playoff.
Park found the fairway and her second shot was just short of the green, while Ryu found the left rough and elected to lay up on her second shot.
Ryu put her third over the green, while Park dropped her approach four feet from the cup. Ryu’s fourth shot rolled a foot past the left edge of the cup, but Park made her birdie putt for the victory.
“It was tough playing with a really good friend in the playoff. It just felt weird,” Park said. “I am human. My emotions did not show, but I was really nervous.”
In the third round, Park birdied the par-three sixth, par-five seventh and par-four eighth, before taking her lone bogey at the par-four 11th, and bouncing back with birdies at the par-five 14th and 18th holes to complete a round of four-under 67.
“I was maybe thinking it would take six or seven-under today,” Park said. “There were a lot of leaders at 10-under. I left a lot of putts out there, but overall I am pretty happy about the way I played.”
Ryu birdied the par-five second and seventh holes, took a double-bogey at the par-four 13th, but matched Park for the lead by making birdies at the par-three 17th and the 18th, sinking a dramatic 10-foot birdie putt to force the playoff.
Japan’s Mika Miyazato was third on 202, with New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko, the reigning US Amateur champion, South Korea’s I.K. Kim and Stacy Lewis of the US sharing fourth on 203.
Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer of the US, Japan’s Chie Arimura and Spain’s Beatriz Recari were on 204.
Taiwan’s Candie Kung shot a two-over 73 to finish on 212, while Yani Tseng’s poor form continued as she finished a further two shots back after a final-round 77.
Japan’s Ayako Uehara made a hole-in-one at the par-three 17th, holing her hybrid tee shot on the fly.
Additional reporting by staff writer