SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Former world number one Park In-bee wielded a red-hot putter on her way to a tournament-record eight-under 64 that catapulted the Korean to a one-shot victory at the HSBC Women’s Champions on Sunday.
Playing in just her second LPGA Tour event since she was sidelined by thumb surgery last May, Park reeled off eight birdies in 10 holes in the middle of her round to overhaul overnight leader Michelle Wie and pull away from the field.
“I kind of felt like in the middle of the round there, that I could make it from anywhere on the green,” Park told reporters after her 27-putt round at the New Tanjong Course.
“There was a little bit of luck, as well. I hit some great putts but there were some a little off-speed that hit the holes and went in.”
Chased all the way by playing partner and world number two Ariya Jutanugarn, Park survived a late scare when she duffed a bunker shot to bogey the last but finished on 19-under-par 269, a shot ahead of the big-hitting Thai, who fired a six-under 66.
Talented rookie Park Sung-hyun was left to rue some wayward putting as she took third on 16-under but the champion, who won Olympic gold in Rio last August, was impeccable on the greens as she claimed a second Singapore title in three years.
“I’m surprised, because I thought it may take a couple of months to get back out on the tour and to get my rhythm back,” the seven-times major champion admitted.
“I thought I was going to be a little rusty like last week in Thailand but this week was totally different. Especially the final round. I was a little bit inconsistent yesterday but I obviously made up for it today.”
The day started well for American Wie, who maintained her overnight two-shot lead as she aimed to claim a first victory since the 2014 U.S. Open, until a four-putt double-bogey on the par-five fifth took the wind out of her sails.
As Wie’s progress stalled, the 27-year-old would eventually finish in a tie for fourth, Park surged clear with Ariya in hot pursuit when the Korean started her birdie streak on the fifth and had raced three ahead of the chasing pack by the 12th.
Ariya cut the lead to two on the next and when her tee-shot on the par-three 17th landed four feet from the pin, the 21-year-old seemed certain to close to within one but Park drained a monster birdie putt to keep the Thai at arm’s length.
“I learned a lot from her, she’s very calm,” Ariya said of the new champion. “It felt like she made every putt, I don’t remember her missing any today.”
Reporting by John O'Brien; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly