Se Ri Pak made just a little splash yesterday at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
That was off the golf course.
On it, things went just swimmingly as the South Korean native marched to her third Jamie Farr Kroger Classic championship in the past four years. See Pak's hole-by-hole totals
Pak reeled off 11 straight pars, then responded when Maria Hjorth, Kris Tschetter and others turned up the heat. Starting with a birdie at No.12, Pak came down the stretch in 3-under for a 68, a 15-under par 269 total and a two-shot victory.
Afterwards, Pak hesitantly fulfilled a pre-round promise that, in the event of a win, she would dive into the Highland Meadows swimming pool. Holding hands with several friends and family members, she went feet first into the shallow end.
“But I forgot to bring extra clothes,” she protested as cam-eramen lined up around the pool.
Pak can pick up a whole new wardrobe or two with the $150,000 winner's check. Her Farr winnings over the past four years now total $472,933. (She finished third last year.)
Tied with three holes to play yesterday, Pak finished with back-to-back birdies to make the final margin easier than it looked.
“I saw some leaderboards after the front nine and I knew some great players were right behind me,” said Pak, who opened the day with a four-stroke lead. “I just had to work hard and focus and, suddenly, there I was on No. 18.”
Before Pak could go swimming, Hjorth had to take a dip at the most unlikely of places, the par-5 17th hole.
They don't come any easier at the Meadows. It's a 513-yard, generously-wide chute to a small, well-bunkered green that the field played in an average of 4.75 strokes. Out of 442 scores posted on that hole during the Farr's four rounds, only 34 were above par. There were only four bogeys at No. 17 yesterday.
But one of them belonged to Hjorth. It put a damper on an otherwise sizzling round of 64 and likely cost her the opportunity to force a playoff.
Hjorth missed the fairway with her drive, which denied her any chance of going for the green. Instead, she laid up to 104 yards short of the green, then chunked a third shot that landed short of the front bunker. Hjorth chipped to four feet, but missed the par-saving putt.
“I played so well all day,” the Swede said. “I hit only one bad shot. But I can't say that's where I lost the tournament. Not when I look back at the first round.”
Indeed, Hjorth's finish was rather remarkable considering she opened with a 5-over 76 and began second-round play in jeopardy of missing the cut. She ended up playing the next 54 holes in 18-under.
“The first round, it was windy and I lost my timing a little bit,” Hjorth said. “When you lose your tempo and timing in the middle of a round it's hard to get it back. I knew I could still shoot some low scores on this course, but I was aware I might have a weekend off, which would have been very rare for me lately.”
That's an understatement. Her runner-up finish marked the sixth time in her past seven tournaments that she placed either second or third. Hjorth's earnings over that span total $629,383 and she rests fourth on the LPGA Tour money list behind Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Pak.
The much-ballyhooed battle between the tour's two top players, Sorenstam and Webb, never left the starting blocks. Webb closed with a 73 and tied for 23rd at 4-under 280 while Sorenstam, the Farr Classic's defending champion, tied for 47th after closing with a 1-under 70.
With Pak stuck in a rut of pars, Tschetter was the first to tighten the vise, scoring three birdies in a four-hole stretch of the front nine to get to minus-11, one shot out of the lead. But she hooked her drive en route to a bogey at No. 10 and never mounted a serious bid thereafter.
“I just couldn't get anything going today,” said Tschetter, who was trying for just her second title in 14 years on tour. “It's very frustrating.”
Marnie McGuire fired a 6-under 65 to get to minus-11, but ran out of holes and settled for a third-place tie with Heather Bowie (68). Tschetter, who carded a 69, was another shot back at 10-under 274 in a group with Laura Diaz (67), Moira Dunn (68) and Meg Mallon (69).
Hjorth ended up as the field's last line of defense against Pak, but her bubble burst at No. 17.
“No, I would not have expected her to bogey,” Pak said. “The 17th and 18th holes are great chances (for birdies) especially with her hitting the ball really long. I figured easy birdies for her the last two holes.”
Pak produced just that.
The champion's second shot at 17 landed just short of the left, front edge of the green. She chipped to two feet for almost a tap-in birdie. At No. 18, Pak used her sand wedge to hit the green in regulation, some eight feet from the cup. Looking over a right-to-left putt that she has struck so many times in Farr competition, she stroked it dead center for a second straight birdie.
Pak said she had trouble judging greens speed early in the round, but wasn't concerned over starting with 11 straight pars.
“As long I didn't make any bogeys I was in pretty good shape,” Pak said. “I didn't worry. I had many holes to go and I knew there were a lot of chances. I knew there would be some holes when it would finally go in. After the front nine, everything felt better.”
Moments after Hjorth birdied No. 14 to tie for the lead at 12-under, Pak rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the 12th hole and followed with another at No. 13, where she hit her sand wedge approach to within six feet. She lost a stroke at the 15th when she drove left into trees.
But Hjorth's bogey at No. 17 coupled with Pak's birdie-birdie finish produced the South Korean's third title of the year - she won earlier tournaments in Orlando, Fla., and Lincoln, Calif. - and bumped her earnings to $958,992.
One year after finishing one shot out of a playoff and settling for a third-place finish here, Pak became the Farr Classic's first three-time champion.
“Every year, it's pretty much the same,” she said of her comfort zone at Highland Meadows.
She could just as easily have been talking about the results.