Inbee Park, as LPGA star Brittany Lincicome tweeted on Thursday, is human after all.
The world No. 1, who would become the first golfer ever to win four professional major championships in the same season with a victory this week at St. Andrews, admitted, after carding an opening-round 3-under 69 on Thursday at the Women’s British Open, that the magnitude of the situation had permeated her normally stoic demeanor.
“Because I know what I was playing for, I [was] a little more nervous,” Park, who won the first three majors of the year, told reporters after finishing three shots behind co-leaders Morgan Pressel and Camilla Lennarth. “But I made a birdie on the first hole, so maybe I can play under the pressure.”
With birdies on six of her first 10 holes, Park looked as if she might leave the field in her wake as she chased history across the iconic home of golf. Bogeys on the 13th and 17th holes, and a double on the par-4 16th, however, knocked the seemingly unflappable 25-year-old from South Korea out of her usual flowing rhythm.
Missing the fairways on the three holes had Park worried as she stood over a putt on the 16th, one of two greens on which one of the best in the game with a flat stick in her hands three-putted.
“I really lost my concentration in the middle of the round there through 13 to like the 16th, 17th hole,” she said. “I really just wanted to fix the swing. I couldn't concentrate on the greens.”
It was an admission that surprised Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.
“In the past,” Chamblee said, “[Park] looked oblivious to pressure. She never really showed determination, or frustration, when she played.
“But today, that sort of permanent state of serenity was replaced by a little bit of fret. She was missing some drives short and to the right,” he said. “If you miss to the right [on the Old Course], you’ve got a lot of trouble [with out of bounds coming into play] at 16, 17, 18.”
Chamblee opined that the possibility of knocking her ball OB “got into her head on her putting stroke.”
It’s a stroke that showed no signs of stress at the start, as Park rolled in a seven-footer for birdie on the first hole and drilled another birdie from 30 feet on No. 3. She proceeded to drop an 18-foot putt for birdie on the fourth, a 35-footer on the sixth, one from about 20 feet on No. 8, and made a ho-hum birdie from five feet on the 10th.
The birdie train came to a screeching halt on No. 12, when her tee shot landed in heavy rough to the right. Though she was able to save par, a poor drive on 13 led to her first bogey of the round.
Three-putts on 16 and 17 were completely out of character for the top-ranked putter on tour, as was her loss of four shots in five holes.
"I thought that I fixed my problems coming into this week. I was hitting it so good on the practice round and I didn't really miss any balls," Park said. "I thought I was really prepared, but those couple of bad shots really shocked me. I couldn't really concentrate on the greens when I hit those shots.”
Like her counterpart on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods, Park was baffled by the sluggish greens coming down the stretch.
“I think I didn't get a to putt a long putt until the first three‑putt [at No. 16],” she said. “The greens were a lot slower than I thought. Just missed it on the speed, and the same thing on the next hole. I thought I hit it hard and it just didn't go.”
Despite the hiccups, Park rebounded with a birdie on 18 and was pleased with her position heading into Friday’s second round.
"A little disappointing, but I'm glad that I've done that in the first round instead of the final round," she said. "I'm looking to improve the next three days."
Pressel, for her part, carded seven birdies Thursday on her way to a sizzling 66. A missed birdie putt on 18 kept the 2007 Kraft Nabisco Championship winner from matching her lowest round in a major -- a 65 that she fired in the third round of the 2010 Women’s British Open.
The 25-year-old American also has her sights set on proving to 2013 captain Meg Mallon that she belongs on the U.S. Solheim Cup squad. Mallon will finalize her 12-player team after play on Sunday and Pressel entered the week one Rolex Ranking spot from qualifying.
“I wish I had about a dollar every time somebody asked me that,” Pressel said, referring to unending queries about how much she wants to make the team. “I'd be a bizillionaire.”
Pressel, the youngest major winner in LPGA history when she captured the Kraft Nabisco at the age of 19, went 4-0 in a losing effort on the 2011 Solheim Cup unit.
She was also not the only American making her presence felt at the top of the St. Andrews leader board. Former No. 1, Stacy Lewis, shot a 67 and ended the day in a logjam at second place.
Park will continue stalking the Grand Slam Friday when she tees off at 11:48 a.m. local time.