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Inbee Park cruises to victory in Kraft Nabisco Championship

She shoots a final-round 69 to finish at 15-under-par 273 at Rancho Mirage and earns her second major title. Fellow South Korean So Yeon Ryu is second, four shots behind.

April 08, 2013|By Diane Pucin, Los Angeles Times
  • Inbee Park reacts after celebrates after completing her victory in the LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club.
Inbee Park reacts after celebrates after completing her victory in the… (Chris Carlson / Associated…)

Inbee Park essentially won the Kraft Nabisco Championship on Sunday on her first hole at the Mission Hills Country Club course in Rancho Mirage.

Park, from South Korea, made a resolute birdie while Azusa's Lizette Salas, 23, who had started the day in second place and three shots behind Park, hit a nervous drive in the rough and made a double bogey while her playing partner, Park, watched without outward expression.

But inwardly Park must have been giving herself a high-five. The 24-year-old, who won the 2008 U.S. Open, took her second major title, shooting a final-round 69 and finished the four-day event at 15-under-par 273.

Park never led by fewer than four shots Sunday after that first-hole swing. Salas, wearing USC colors, faded to a tie for 25th with her final round of 79 that included two double bogeys, three bogeys and no birdies.

When Park rolled in a 22-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole that put her ahead of the field by six shots, it seemed clear that she wasn't going be put under pressure.

This is the third straight major tournament won by a South Korean golfer and eighth straight won by an Asian golfer. World No. 1 Stacy Lewis, an American from the University of Arkansas, won here two years ago.

So Yeon Ryu, also of South Korea, shot the week's low round of 65 and pulled herself into second place, four shots behind Park.

Even after that fantastic round, Ryu, 22 and the defending U.S. Open champion, said it appeared Park was playing in a different place.

"She looks like she's playing another course," Ryu said. "This golf course is really hard, and before we started Inbee was worried about her game because her ball flight is a little low. She said, 'I don't think I can stop it on the greens.' But she hit it so well. I think she was lying to me."

Park, who was engaged to G.H. Nam last summer, now has her fiance traveling with her as her coach, but no wedding date has been set.

She said the three-shot swing on the first hole made her day much easier.

"I holed a long putt, and a birdie start is always good for me," Park said. "I never really shoot over par starting with a birdie, so that gave me a lot of confidence.

Salas said she felt nerves.

"I'm not very pleased," Salas said. "I'm very disappointed with myself. I have to look at the bright side and learn from Inbee. It's a learning experience for me and I'm really upset. I just have to dig deeper and figure out what happened today."

Lewis, who became ranked No. 1 in the world last month, shot a final-round 72 and finished tied for 32nd. Lewis said she wasn't too disappointed in her result this year.

"There's a lot of events to play," said Lewis, who has won twice this year.

Michelle Wie, who burst on the golf scene here 10 years ago when she finished ninth as a 13-year-old, is still looking for her first major title now that she's a 23-year-old Stanford graduate. Wie, who had missed three cuts in five events this season, shot a final-round 73 and finished at even par for the tournament.

"It's OK," she said briefly before leaving the course.

Golf Channel analyst Judy Rankin said she saw some progress in Wie's game.

"The window hasn't closed [on Wie winning a major]," Rankin said. "What we have to find out now, and only time will tell, is if there are just too many scars."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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