SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Park In-bee suffered the disappointment of seeing her incredible bogey-free streak come to an end after 115 holes but the Korean opened her HSBC Women’s Champions title defense with a solid first round to sit just one shot off the lead on Thursday.
Despite her one blemish on the par-three 17th, Park fired a four-under-par 68 to join three others in a tie for third behind co-leaders Minjee Lee of Australia and Taiwan’s Candie Kung, who carded matching 67s around the demanding Serapong Course.
Park stormed to the title a year ago without dropping a shot and although she returned this year under an injury cloud following back issues, the seven-times major winner picked up where she left off on a course she appears born to play.
Her remarkable run of consistency in Singapore reached its peak with a birdie on the 16th, her fourth of the day, that marked her 115th hole in the tournament without a bogey stretching back to the ninth hole of the third round in 2014.
The run ended with a bogey-four on the next hole but Park shrugged it off to birdie the par-five 18th to put herself in prime position to become the first repeat champion in the tournament’s nine-year history.
“Yeah, it was going to come at some point,” Park said of the streak in a post-round interview at the $1.5 million LPGA restricted field event.
“It’s actually nice to get it over with today and without playing with it for the next three days. It was a good round. To make a bogey is disappointing, but it happens.”
Park, who was a cumulative 25-under-par during the streak, admitted she was still a little rusty after an extended off-season to rest her back but was delighted to have shot what she said was her best round of the season.
“My game needs to sharpen up a little bit more but today was actually a really great day and gives me a lot of confidence going into the next three rounds,” she added.
If anyone was looking rusty it was tournament favorite and world number one Lydia Ko, who was one-over through 15 holes before two late birdies lifted her up to one-under for the round and into a tie for 27th.
“I didn’t really have that many birdie opportunities today, so it was almost a day where I really couldn’t shoot low unless my putter was really hot,” the 18-year-old New Zealander, who skipped last week’s event in Thailand, said.
“I finished pretty solidly and I made a birdie on 16 and a birdie on 18. I’ve just got to take the positives from today and go into tomorrow and try to improve the things that needs a little bit of work.”
Reporting by John O'Brien; editing by Sudipto Ganguly