Inbee Park walks toward her ball after missing a putt for a birdie on the third hole of the Marathon Classic.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
Inbee Park will not win the Marathon Classic, this news registering somewhere between surprising and stunning with 18 holes to play.
The world’s best player, who is having one of the best LPGA seasons ever, produced one of her worst rounds of the year Saturday to drop off from contention. A double bogey to start the morning foreshadowed a 2-over 73 round that effectively dismissed chances of Park collecting a seventh tournament title in the Korean’s tour de force season.
Park, who in two weeks will try to become the second woman to win four majors in one season, sits nine shots off the lead at 3-under. She is tied for 23rd.
“I didn’t know she wasn’t in contention, but it’s definitely a surprise,” Beatriz Recari said after walking off the 18th green with a share of the lead at 12-under. “She’s so consistent. She’s such a great player, and she’s on such a good run.”
Highland Meadows on Saturday did to Park what few courses have. Beginning the day two shots off the lead, she encountered an immediate setback on the par-4 No. 1 when her errant drive stopped in a fairway bunker. Park carded a double bogey — “one bad bunker shot cost me two shots,” she said — and bogeyed No. 5. Her struggles revealed a mortal side to Park, something that was not apparent last month when she ripped off three straight titles, including her second and third majors.
Park, who enters today needing to make up three shots to crack the top 10, parred the final 10 holes. A near miss from 10 feet on No. 18 was a microcosm for a frustrating back nine. Park figured has she failed to connect on eight birdie tries on the back nine.
“I’ve had some weeks this year that I had not that hot of putting days, but it has always come back,” she said. “I’m just waiting for it to come back.”
Park, who burst onto the scene in 2008 with a 4-stroke win at the U.S. Women’s Open, struggled the next three seasons. She resurfaced in 2012, winning twice and finishing runner-up six times and posting the tour’s lowest scoring average (70.21).
This year’s success is otherworldy.
Park has won six of the 14 events she’s played and finished in the top 10 eight times. Her win last month at the U.S. Open made her the fourth woman to win three majors in one season, along with Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961), and Pat Bradley (1986).
Park’s non-top-10 finishes — there are six — include ties for 14th and 17th and a missed cut in the Bahamas where the course was largely unplayable. She has pocketed $2.1 million this year.
“She’s just unbelievable right now,” said co-leader Paula Creamer. “You can’t play great every week. Everybody’s kind of surprised when you don’t see her at the top, but what she’s done is remarkable.”
In two weeks at the British Open, Park will attempt to join Zaharias and Bobby Jones as the only golfers to win four majors in a season. A victory in Fife, Scotland will have added to this legendary season, one in which a stop in Sylvania will have registered as one of the few low points.
“I can’t ask more for this season,” Park said. “Even if I have a couple bad tournaments, that’s OK.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.