Inbee Park bid for glory blown off course by cruel winds at British Open
It will take a humungous heave to pull in the field from here, the kind of feat that is commonplace in Inbee Park's season of unprecedented riches. No one needs convincing of Park's status as the world's best female golfer. A fourth major victory on the spin to keep her grand slam ambitions alive would add lustre to her name but hardly substance.
A round of 73, softened by a birdie at the last for the second day running, eased the pain of a difficult round at the end of which she finished eight off Na Yeon Choi's pace at the Ricoh Women's British Open. A stiff wind at St Andrews is an act of sadism perpetrated against the golf community by nature. Pity those starters who were out in the afternoon, among whom was the great Park, her historic challenge taking something of a beating in the hooley.
While the overnight leader Morgan Pressel was presented with a gorgeous, sunny morning buffeted by nothing more than a gentle breeze, history's chosen one came home in the teeth of a gale, the last seven holes running directly into the wind. Pressel failed to make hay in the manner of Thursday's 66 but a round of 70 took her to eight under par, just two off the lead.
Park reversed the experience of Thursday with a bogey at the first. She equalised with a birdie at the sixth to reach the turn level, three under for the tournament. She had been five under at the same point 24 hours earlier and had rattled in a birdie at the 10th to go clear at the top of the leaderboard. How she could have done with another.
The 10th green is a par three all its own, measuring almost an acre in surface area. After finding a bunker with her tee shot, Park was left with a two-putt for par from almost 50 yards. She took three to fall back to two under. She would have taken that score walking off the 18th green.
After a bogey at the Road Hole, she stood eight shots off the clubhouse lead as she went to the 18th tee and needed a birdie at the last to secure that two-under aggregate. Park wasn't playing badly. Indeed her score over the closing eight holes was three better than her first round. Given half a sniff with the flat stick her habit is to hole the putt, and so it came to pass, an appreciative gallery stacked in the grandstand behind the green clapping her 10-footer into the cup.
The morning belonged to Japan's Miki Saiki, who carded a 66 thanks in large part to a pair of eagles on the outward nine achieved by holing approaches at the fourth and seventh holes. An eight-iron from 127 yards on the fourth and a wedge from 108 yards helped her to the turn in 30. She was even par all the way home.
"I was surprised by the first eagle, so you can imagine how surprised I was the second time it happened," said Saiki, who won back to back in Japan in April. "This course suits my game. With good course management you can post a score around here."
Pressel missed a cluster of birdie chances, including one at the last, which would have given her a share of Saiki's early clubhouse lead. "I played well," she said. "I didn't put myself in any trouble. I was scaring the hole but the birdies just didn't drop. I was ready with a big fist pump at the last but it didn't go in. That's how it happens some days."
The British Open is the final qualifying event for the Solheim Cup, which takes place in Denver in a fortnight. Victory here would take her into the automatic qualification spots after a difficult year recovering from injury. The teams are announced on Sunday after the victory ceremony.
Pressel is hoping for a double celebration, though she tried to play down speculation about her chances of making the team if she requires a captain's pick. "I've played well for two days, and I'm more focused on this tournament," she said.
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