Hee Young Park takes home the hardware
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not nice to upstage the women of the hour, the golfers demanding notoriety and notice for the LPGA, but that's exactly what Hee Young Park did Sunday evening at the CME Titleholders.
Going into the final round of the season's final event, six players were packed within three shots of the lead. Only one of them was winless as an LPGA pro.
Only one of them was not ranked among the world's top 40 players -- four of them among the top seven.
And that one won.
Park, a 24-year-old South Korean in her fourth LPGA season and ranked 58th in the world, did what all the glamour names around her did not. She played the final round on the difficult Grand Cypress Resort course steady and consistently, handling gusting winds and mounting pressure.
"It was difficult on the greens with tough pin positions today," Park said. "I felt the pressure. I tried hard. I always felt I could win, so today I know that dreams come true."
With a closing-round 70, Park finished 9 under par and two shots in front of American and world No. 7 Paula Creamer (70) and Germany's Sandra Gal (72). No. 2 Suzann Pettersen (72) and No. 4 Na Yeon Choi (70) tied for fourth at 6 under. Next came No. 1 Yani Tseng, No. 3 Cristie Kerr and No. 18 Michelle Wie at 2 under.
"They are really, really fantastic players, and they are really, really strong in mind, golf, everything," Park said. "But even this week I learned a lot from them. I think to have won this week, too, strong mind."
Park began the day as a co-leader with Gal. Pettersen trailed by one, followed closely by Creamer, Choi and Tseng.
Park then crafted a round of three birdies and one bogey, breezing through the final 10 holes with 10 routine pars.
"That's awesome playing," Creamer acknowledged. "That's really good, especially in these conditions where there's a lot of top players battling, trying to get up there. And she knew that. She played well."
No one could match Park's steady hand. Although Creamer played the back nine in 3 under, two front-side bogeys and an inconsistent putter never allowed her to apply pressure. Neither could Gal, derailed by a costly bogey on the par-5 15th immediately after consecutive birdies moved her within one shot. Pettersen, the confident Norwegian who proclaimed "bring it on" after three rounds, had three bogeys and a double on her way to an even-par round and never contended. Tseng could not muster a charge, closing with a 2-over 74.
"She had great composure all day long," Gal said, saluting the winner. "I've played with her many times and she's such a great competitor because she's always happy and just plays her own game. I think she really deserves it."
Park joined the LPGA in 2008 after recording six wins on the Korean LPGA, including three titles as the tour's rookie of the year in 2006.
The success fueled high expectations for another in a long line of LPGA success stories by South Koreans, but Park's results had come up short. With two runners-up going into this year, she could have won at Safeway, going to the final hole with a share of the lead. But she bogeyed and finished third.
As darkness fell Sunday night, Park, her shirt still soggy from a champagne shower provided by a number of her countrywomen on the 18th green, admitted to feeling the pressure.
"Yeah, sponsors," Park said, breaking into a laugh. "They really, really badly waiting for the win. 'Why not you win? Why not?' What I say. I'm trying every week, and I work hard. I want to make some low under par every day, and then every day, every week, win. But everybody played good. I think that they are really, really happy right now."
Although probably not surprised. Park had made 18 of 20 cuts this year coming into the season-ending event. Younger sister, Ju Young, currently plays on the KLPGA Tour and has aspirations of one day playing on the LPGA herself.
"I won in Korea four or five years ago, and then right now this is my first win in U.S.," Park said. "But it feels totally different. Still same kind of goose bumps, same thing, but getting this win I think … changing my life, my future."