Inbee Park has history within reach
When the Women's British Open began, Americans were celebrating the bicentennial, and very few U.S. women's pro golfers made the trek overseas to play in the event. It was 1976, when there were only two designated major events for LPGA players: the U.S. Women's Open and the LPGA Championship.
The idea that there would someday be five majors? That a sizable percentage of the LPGA Tour would be Asian-born players? That 14 of the 28 tournaments in an LPGA season would be played outside the United States? That the Women's British Open would be contested on many of the same courses made famous by the men's Open Championship, even St Andrews?
Had you suggested any of these things 37 years ago, you'd have been considered a crackpot. But look where we are now, as South Korea's Inbee Park attempts to win what could be a historic Women's British Open at perhaps the most revered site in the sport, the Old Course at St Andrews.
Park will be going for her fourth consecutive major championship; no female or male player has won four pro major titles in a calendar year.
The Women's British Open gained major status on the LPGA Tour in 2001, and that elevation helped the event get access to courses such at St Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Liverpool and Turnberry. The female pros first got their shot at the Old Course in 2007, when now-retired Lorena Ochoa won there.
"I remember St Andrews like I played it this year. Somehow that's always stuck in my head for a long time," said Park, who finished tied for 11th there in 2007. "It's such a nice spot to be. We had very bad weather in 2007, I remember.
"So it's going to be really dependent on the weather [this week]. But the golf course, setup wise, I love. I love where they share the fairways together; that's something you don't see everywhere. Everything about that golf course is very special."
Karrie Webb, who has won the British title three times, said she is excited to have one more chance to play the Old Course in a tournament.
"Six years ago when we were there, I didn't think we'd be back before the end of my career," said Webb, who at age 38 has 39 LPGA victories. "To be back there again -- I think we all feel very lucky.
"I think the course sets up great for us. The tees that they were probably playing the British Open from -- the men -- probably 20 to 30 years ago are a decent length for us."
All eyes will be on Park. She has been in the top 10 at the Women's British the last three years, including finishing runner-up to countrywoman Jiyai Shin in 2012. Park has plenty of challengers who admire her and what she's doing for the LPGA Tour now with her quest -- but still very much want to win the trophy for themselves.
Who might be the most likely other than Park to take home this championship?
Jiyai Shin, South Korea
She's the defending champ, and she ran away from the field last year at Royal Liverpool, winning by 9 shots for her second British title. Shin, 25, has won 11 LPGA titles, including the first tournament of this year, the Women's Australian Open.
Shin didn't fare well at the U.S. Women's Open, missing the cut, but she finished tied for fifth and tied for seventh in the two majors before that, the LPGA Championship and Kraft Nabisco Championship.
She has had a lot of success, winning more than $6 million on the LPGA Tour. And although she faced a tragedy at age 16 -- losing her mother in a car accident that seriously injured two siblings -- Shin is known for showing her more whimsical, sunny side. She frequently changes her hair color and loves to sing.
"That's my second job," she joked at a tournament earlier this summer. "I have two albums in Korea. A couple years back, my manager said, 'Let's try to make a CD for the charity.' I did, and people loved that. Then I made another CD. A lot of my friends have asked me, 'What's the next CD to come up?' But I don't know yet."
Who knows? Maybe she'll win this week and call the next CD, "Rockin' the Old Course."
Paula Creamer, United States
A nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour, Creamer keeps knocking on the door to get win No. 10, which would be her first since 2010. Last week, she lost by a shot to Spain's Beatriz Recari at the Marathon Classic, with a final round that felt Solheim Cup-like as the two went head-to-head in the last group.
That performance gave Creamer three top-10s in her last four events, one of those being the U.S. Women's Open, where she tied for fourth. That makes for a strong bounce-back stretch following her tie for 58th at the LPGA Championship in early June.
"I had a tough week there … one of the five worst-ever in my career with ball-striking," Creamer said. "I took some time off, cleared my head, and then said, 'I'm ready to go.'"
Creamer hasn't won on tour since her U.S. Women's Open title at Oakmont in 2010, but she is not getting discouraged. She was third in the Women's British last year and has four top-10s in all at that event. That includes a tie for seventh, when the tournament was at the Old Course.
Creamer turns 27 on Aug. 5, the day after the Women's British ends. Winning could make for a heck of a birthday present.
Catriona Matthew, Scotland
She's not just the home-country favorite, being a native of Edinburgh. But at 43 -- she'll turn 44 later in August -- she's still playing really good golf. And she's a past Women's British Open winner (2009, at Royal Lytham & St Annes).
Matthew sneaked up on everybody at the LPGA Championship and made it into a playoff with Park, where she lost on the third hole. Matthew finished third at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on July 14.
She and husband Graeme have two daughters, and she has successfully split her time between home in Scotland and playing on the LPGA Tour. Matthew has four victories in her career and later this month will participate in her seventh Solheim Cup.
Besides her 2009 victory, Matthew has four other top-10 finishes at the Women's British Open, including the last two years.
Suzann Pettersen, Norway
She's the No. 3 player in the world, but this season it seems she's been either really hot or really cold. As in, either finishing in the top 10 or missing cuts. She did the latter after a desultory two rounds at the U.S. Women's Open. But before that in the LPGA Championship, she shot a final-day 65 and tied for third.
Pettersen has only one major among her 11 LPGA titles. And she's never played that well at the Women's British, with a best finish of tied for 14th in 2010. So why mention her as a contender? Well, the hot and cold thing. If she's on, she can play any course with anybody. If she's off, she may have the weekend free.
Pettersen loves the Solheim Cup, and it may benefit her at the British that she's getting cranked up to play for Team Europe. Also, after her poor finish at the U.S. Women's Open, she bounced back with a tie for sixth at her next event, the Manulife Financial Classic. She didn't play at the Marathon Classic in Ohio, so she should be well-rested.
So Yeon Ryu, South Korea
She has a bubbly personality, a musical soul and an aggressive nature on the golf course that tends to pay off with a fair amount of birdies and eagles.
The 2012 LPGA rookie of the year, Ryu has a major title to her credit -- the 2011 U.S. Women's Open -- which came before she was officially a member of the tour. She tied for fifth in her only appearance thus far in the Women's British, last year.
Ryu has six top-10 finishes this year, including a third place behind Park and I.K. Kim at the U.S. Women's Open. Ryu lost in a playoff to Park the week before that at the tour stop in Arkansas.
Ryu also finished second to Park in the season's first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Maybe it's payback time at the British for Ryu?
Also keep an eye on
Jodi Ewart Shadoff, England: She has three top-10s this year, two of them at majors. And she certainly knows British-style links golf, having grown up there.
Beatriz Recari, Spain: She's coming off her victory at the Marathon Classic on July 21. She has one other victory and three more top-10s this year.
Karrie Webb, Australia: She has won the British title three times, and she'd love nothing better than to make her 40th LPGA victory her eighth major.
I.K. Kim, South Korea: She hasn't won this year, but she has seven top-10s and is No. 3 on the money list. She finished runner-up to Park at the U.S. Women's Open.
Stacy Lewis, United States: She hasn't had a great summer, but we shouldn't forget about the No. 2-ranked player in the world, right? Lewis has 11 top-10s, including two victories. But her finishes in the previous three majors this year don't bode well: tied for 32nd, tied for 28th, tied for 42nd.