By Mike Dougherty
HARRISON – Inbee Park is hoping good things happen in threes.
The 26-year-old South Korean is perched comfortably atop the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship leaderboard with a third consecutive win in this event in sight. She carded a bogey-free 66 on Saturday at Westchester Country Club and got to 14-under.
Park is two shots ahead of Sei Young Kim heading into final round.
“I won three majors in a row before,” she noted in a humble tone. “The way I’ve been playing, I’ve really been happy with my ball-striking, and today was the best putting day yet. So, I mean, it definitely gives me a lot of motivation and confidence going into tomorrow.”
Park has an impressive history, winning four major championships since the beginning of 2013.
“The first time is always hard, always hard to do and it puts extra pressure on you,” said Park, who also won the U.S. Women’s Open in 2008. “But when you’re trying to do it the second, third time in a row, it just feels like you’ve done your homework already. You feel a little bit more relaxed and kind of know how it feels and how it’s going to play. Sometimes when you play bad, it doesn’t really help, but when you’re playing good golf, it definitely helps.”
And there’s no doubt Park is playing well, going 38 holes since her last bogey.
“She’s an amazing player, definitely, and it was cool to see what she’s capable of,” said third-round playing partner Brooke Henderson. “She made a lot of birdies out there today. I think if I can just hang in there tomorrow, I can creep a little bit closer to where she’s at and Sei Young Kim, but we’ll see what happens.”
That’s a lot of ground to make up.
Kim had some issues with her putter on the 18th green, suffered a surprising three-putt bogey and fell back to 12-under. Henderson, Suzann Pettersen and Karrie Webb are all trailing Park by six at 211.
If the West Course is setup is more exacting, it will be difficult to make up ground.
Park rarely makes a string of mistakes, and is rarely animated inside the ropes whether she’s rolling in birdies or bogeys.
“I think I’m just a little bit shy, maybe about expressing myself out on the course,” she said. “I’ve never been really with emotions, showing them on the outside. It helps the game, I think. That’s the way I’ve been playing for a long, long time. You know, that’s just the comfort zone for me, I just keep it to myself.”
Park will likely reclaim the Rolex world No. 1 ranking here, so are the other players intimidated when she’s holding the 54-hole lead?
“I can’t think that they would like it too much,” she responded with a laugh.
The crowds were not exceptional on Saturday, but there were respectable galleries scattered about the golf course.
Kim had the momentum until she dropped a stroke at No. 10, the only par 4 on the course playing under par this week. The LPGA rookie drove into the fescue on the left of the fairway, and took a mighty swing to escape to less injurious rough near the green. One chip and two putts later, she was at 10-under, momentarily tied for the lead with Park.
They went back and forth on the way in.
Kim rolled in birdies at the 12th, 13th and 15th holes to get to 13-under. Park applied the finishing touches with birdies at the 12th, 15th, 17th and 18th.
“Everything was great, up until the last hole.” Kim said.
Kim has two wins this season. She had a three-shot lead at the first major of the season, but stumbled down the stretch of the ANA Inspiration and fell to fourth. Kim was known on the Korean tour as the Comeback Queen, and seems content to chase.
“I don’t mind my position right now because I feel comfortable,” she said. “I have done this before, so tomorrow I will be aggressive and I will do my best to try to win.”