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Inbee Park clinches 21st career victory at the Kia Classic, on the eve of the year’s first major

The first spherical of the Kia Classic was chilly, moist and windy, and Inbee Park, taking part in her first aggressive spherical in three months, cruised to a bogey-free 66. Park performed her greatest golf of the week on the hardest day, and it set the tone for the relaxation of the week.

Lydia Ko beloved what Park needed to say after that first spherical: “I’m just warming up.”

“I was like ‘Oh yeah, she’s back,’ ” Ko mentioned, laughing.

Park led by as many as seven strokes at the Kia, finally topping the subject by 5 at 14-under 272. Americans Amy Olson and Lexi Thompson completed tied for second at 9 beneath. World No. 1 Jin Young Ko positioned solo fourth, six strokes again.

Ko has lengthy admired Park’s constantly even-keel demeanor and angle on the golf course. She believes it accounts for a lot of her long-term success on the LPGA.

“That nickname of ‘silent assistant’ doesn’t come from nowhere,” Ko added.

Longtime caddie Brad Beecher mentioned Park’s laid-back angle retains her from overpreparing for something, together with majors.

Inbee Park

Inbee Park

Inbee Park tees off the third gap throughout the ultimate spherical of the Kia Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 28, 2021, in Carlsbad, California. (Photo: Donald Miralle-Getty Images)

“She knows she’s got the game,” he mentioned. “She knows she doesn’t need to overdo it. She hasn’t for years.”

The Kia marked Park’s 21st career title and her first since February 2020. She joins LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith with 21 wins and strikes inside 4 victories of Se Ri Pak’s mark as the winningest Korean participant in tour historical past.

The seven-time major winner now has $17,003,925 in career earnings and turns into simply the fourth participant in LPGA Tour historical past to cross the $17 million threshold.

“It was my first week back out in three months or so, and I played so good,” mentioned Park. I imply, I couldn’t consider how I used to be doing on the market this week.”

This was supposed to simply be sharpening session for subsequent week’s ANA Inspiration. But Park has such a great file at Aviara Golf Club, together with two earlier runner-up showings, that the good vibes come naturally. Even she was shocked with how properly the whole lot got here collectively, saying it’s a thriller even she will be able to’t resolve.

Trying to sharpen up her recreation although, she mentioned, may need helped her to work a little bit tougher beneath strain and never really feel too snug.

Her lead grew so huge although, she may actually afford to chill out.

“I did not really think much about Inbee,” mentioned Olson. “She was kind of doing her own thing and playing her own golf course. She obviously played phenomenal this week.”

Olson was fairly happy along with her personal private greatest – a terrific turnaround on Friday that took her from 6 over with 11 holes to go to birdieing six coming in to make the minimize. The momentum continued into the weekend with rounds of 67-68.

What sparked the shift?

“Ron (Stockton) and I were talking about that today,” mentioned Olson. “I’m like, I don’t know, like I definitely got mad and I’m like, I don’t know if that’s a good way for me to play or something.”

Thompson can be pleased with the state of her recreation heading into ANA, saying that she’s most happy along with her psychological state.

“You know, I could have gotten downhill on a few holes,” mentioned Thompson.

Park was prepared to leap into Poppie’s Pond after her Kia victory to wash up after a celebratory champagne tub.

The 32-year-old entered the week No. 4 in the world and strengthened her probabilities of returning to the Olympics in 2021. The LPGA Hall of Famer has lengthy mentioned that have been it not for the Olympics, she may not nonetheless be taking part in. Winning the 2016 gold medal renewed Park’s vigor for competitors and gave her a brand new purpose – repeating.

But so as to repeat, she’d first should qualify. She’ll want to at least one of 4 South Koreans in the Rolex Rankings – all inside the prime 15 – to punch her ticket to the Summer Games.

“I am pretty much eligible for pretty much anything in the game of golf,” mentioned Park, “but it was quite different obviously. Plus, I am defending champion of that event and I’m not qualified. It’s just a very different approach. … It’s getting close. I wouldn’t say I’m safe, but I’m getting close.”

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