U.S. Women’s Open: Inbee Park down by one at Sebonack

USA TODAY Sports

Inbee Park putts lights out but Seoul Sister Ha-Neul Kim does her one better in the opening round at Sebonack.

Inbee Park had her putter on cruise control as she got off to a sizzling start to the U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club, where an historic win would land the 24-year-old South Korean in elite company.

Except the world No. 1, who needed just 25 putts on her way to a 5-under 67 that was low score for much of the day, will enter Friday’s second round looking up at unheralded Ha-Neul Kim. With a run that included four birdies on her incoming nine, the seven-time LPGA of Korea Tour player matched Park’s 25 putts to close with a flawless 6-under 66.

Though dropping out of the lead late on Thursday, Park was the story of the opening round on the seaside Tom Doak/Jack Nicklaus-designed track. For sure, the dominant player in all of golf offered convincing proof of why she may well become the first player in 63 years to notch three major championships to start the season.

Park strolled into Southampton, N.Y., on a serious roll and with all the self-assurance of someone who already had five games in the win column this season.

“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment,” Park told reporters after carding six birdies and one bogey to take an early lead on the 6,821-yard, par-72 circuit. “The way I'm playing, the way things have been going, the way I've been getting the luck, I think I am in the zone.

“I've been playing my best in my career at the moment,” she added. “I really just want to enjoy the moment.”

A win this week for Park would match the three major crowns Baba Zaharias won in 1950. Should she succeed, Park, the presumptive favorite entering the contest, would be the oddsmakers’ choice to achieve the improbable feat of winning an unprecedented four, and then (with the former Evian Masters a major as of this year), five majors in a single season.

Despite the one blemish on her scorecard, Park remained calm in the face of a potentially momentous week. Not the longest hitter on tour, Park exploited some favorable tee positions and then relied on her short game and flat stick to get her into the clubhouse on the strength of four birdies on her last nine holes.

“I don't think I've ever putted this good in my life, ever,” Park said. “I think I'm putting my best in my career at the moment.”

Park took advantage of tee placements that shortened some holes, thanks to tourney organizers moving several tee areas up due to forecasts of heavy rain that never materialized.

“The USGA was a little generous on us today,” said Park. “A lot of tees were moved up, so instead of hitting like 5‑irons, we were hitting 9‑irons, and that was making the course much easier. I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn't leave much out there.”

Park played the round with former No. 1 Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen. Lewis was pleased with her 71 score and content not to be the frontrunner.

“I'm excited with the way I hit the ball, especially some of those shots I hit at the end into six and seven were really good,” Lewis said. “This is not a tournament you want to lead. I don't think you want to lead after the first day because it's hard to maintain that for four days.”

Pettersen, who said ahead of the tourney that Park did not intimidate her, scuffled to a 76. Michelle Wie, whose game had taken a turn for the better after a disastrous season, began with a horrific quadruple-bogey eight on the par-4 10th. Though she battled back with birdies on her 15th, 17th, and 18th holes, Wie carded an 80 that put her in a tie for 141st after 18 holes.

“I snap‑hooked it off the tee, my backswing caught the weeds, topped it, went in the heather or the fescue. Ran from fescue to fescue, lost the ball, went back to the fescue, chipped out, and almost made my putt for a seven but had an eight,” Wie said. “Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong today, but I'm proud of myself for making three birdies in the last four holes. So, hopefully, I can get a couple more birdies tomorrow.”

Juli Inkster, at 53 the oldest player in the field, canned an eagle-3 on the par-5 18th, her ninth hole of the day, and with a birdie and three bogeys, finished at even-par. Her start on Thursday gave Inkster the most appearances, 34, of any player in the event.

Meanwhile, Nelly Korda, the younger sister of Jessica (both offspring of tennis star father Petr) and, at 14, youngest player in the event, posted a 73.

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