WRAP: Park climbs to the top in Adelaide

Inbee Park came to Adelaide saying she may need to win not only once but twice early this year to earn her spot on the South Korean Olympic team. She’s going about it the right way at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.

Park, the legendary Korean with seven majors and an Olympic gold medal at Rio de Janeiro to her name, has the pole position going into the weekend after a nice, calm four-under par 69 that reflected her personality today at Royal Adelaide.

The 31-year-old Korean had the outright lead for most of the day but late in the afternoon first-round leader Jodi Ewart Shadoff birdied the ninth hole, her last of the day, to join Park at 10-under par. They will be in the last group on Saturday.

Park did not make much noise but she was relentless, and when the putts started to fall midway through her round, there was no stopping her. She hit 15 greens and did not surrender a single bogey.

Although she’s ranked 17th in the world, she is only the sixth-ranked of her countrywomen behind Jin-Young Ko (No. 1), Sung Hyun Park (2), Sei Young Kim (6), Jeongeun Lee6 (9) and Hyo-Joo Kim (12).

Under the Olympic guidelines, a maximum of four will get in and to do that, you need be in the top 15. That means she needs to jump over two Koreans to earn the right to defend her title in Tokyo. No wonder Park said this week that it was potentially harder to make the Korean women’s golf team than to actually win a medal.

The 31-year-old began steadily with seven straight pars, missing a good opportunity for birdie on the par-five 15th hole. But when she found the green in two on the par-five 17th and two-putted for birdie, she caught fire. At the 18th, she bombed one in from 10 metres then hit it close at the first for another, and again with a wedge at the third.

Beyond that she parachuted in with a four-under par score that was enough for a one-shot lead in search of her first win since 2018. “It definitely gives me a lot of excitement being on the top of the leaderboard and being in contention in the weekend. That’s the reason why I’m playing golf,” she said later.

Ewart Shadoff fought back from two early bogeys to reel off five birdies in an impressive three-under 70 that puts her on even terms with Park.

“Especially around here, it can really get away from you with the wind and just how the course is playing, so I was really proud of myself for hanging in there,” she said.

American Jllian Hollis, a Symetra Tour graduate and a rookie on the LPGA Tour, is the closest pursuer at nine-under after also shooting a 69. Another American, Marina Alex, joined Korean Ayean Cho at eight-under, just two shots from the lead.

Of the Australians, Hannah Green (tied-eighth at six under par after a 71 today) is the best while Minjee Lee starts the weekend six from the lead.

The conditions were nice for much of the day but the scoring average was slightly higher at 73.4.

American Christina Kim made five consecutive birdies to begin her round but drifted to a three-under 70, while Englishwoman Mel Reid aced the par-three 12th hole.

Nelly Korda, Jeongeun Lee6 and Minjee Lee neither conceded nor gained any ground. The Australian Lee shot a one-under 72, finishing with a long birdie at the last, and the Korean Lee three-putted the last to shoot 74. Korda battled to an even-par 73 and the big-name trio, all ranked in the top 10 in the world, are outside the top 20 here.

Among those to miss the even-par cut were veteran Karrie Webb (74-74).

LEADERBOARDS

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ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open
Pos.CountryPlayer TotalToday
1 KOR I.Park -141
2 USA A.Olson -11-3
3 FRA P.Delacour -100
T4 USA M.Alex -92
T4 CHN Y.Liu -90
T6 FRA C.Boutier -82
T6 KOR A.Cho -84
T6 USA C.Kerr -8-4
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