Late afternoon shadows crisscrossed the 18th green as the final round of the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic neared the checkered flag yesterday.
Watching the action intently, tournament director Judd Silverman, the happiest person at Highland Meadows Golf Club this side of Se Ri Pak, displayed the contented smile of a Cheshire Cat.
“We're tickled to death. The level of play here is incredible. It's getting better and better,” Silverman said.
It's getting even better, because the best players want to play at Highland Meadows. This year's field showcased Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, the LGPA's top money-winners in 2001, along with Pak, No. 3 on the money list who became the Farr's first three-time champion.
It goes without saying that Pak, who posted a four-day total of 269, 15-under par, has Highland Meadows wrapped around her little finger.
Pak has won the Farr three out of four years. She finished third last year behind Sorenstam, missing the sudden-death playoff by one stroke.
The Farr is in good hands, regardless. The tournament returned to the ESPN family following two years of no national TV coverage. Attendance for the event was strong, capped by an estimated 14,000 fans yesterday - far and away the largest turnout of the week. In addition, concession sales on Thursday and Friday were the highest in tournament history, according to Silverman.
Big names on the leaderboard and consistently low scores keep fans pouring through the gates.
The average score at the Farr was 71.6 (par is 71 at Highland Meadows). That average dipped to 70.3 yesterday.
Mi Hyun Kim fired a 62 yesterday to finish at 8-under 276. Kim emulated Pak, who never relinquished the lead after shooting 62 on Friday. Maria Hjorth's 64 yesterday vaulted her all the way into second place, at 13-under. Helen Alfredsson also shot 64 in the final round, and Marnie McGuire's 65 lifted her into a third-place tie with promising second-year pro Heather Bowie, at 11-under.
“If you hit good tee shots, you're going to have good looks at the hole,” said Bowie, who has produced her two best rounds and top two LPGA finishes at the Farr. “This week I putted better than I did all year.”
Said Silverman: “The players love this golf course. They love the crowds. The ambiance. They want to be here. I guess that's the highest compliment they could pay us.”
Then there's Pak, the No. 1 gate attraction at Highland Meadows.
Pak may occasionally stub her toe, as she did when she recorded her first bogey of the round at No.15. But, at last check, golf was still all about winning.
Ask yourself this question: Who would you rather see controlling the lead on the final day at Highland Meadows than Pak? She's now a perfect 6-for-6 when carry-ing a lead into the final day of the tournament.
After playing even par through the first 11 holes yesterday, Pak birdied four of the last seven holes to close out the tournament in style.
“Sometimes I think too much. Every week, try to play and get a plan for every golf course. This (course) - it is really simple,” Pak said. “All day, all week, every year play well here.”
John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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