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  • Inbee Park will face even more pressure at next month's Women's British Open.

  • Seth Wenig Associated Press Inbee Park is sprayed with champagne by her fellow Koreans after she putted out on No. 18.

Park calmly makes it three majors in row

Published: Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 1, 2013 - 6:35 am

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In 2009, Inbee Park followed her first U.S. Women's Open title with the worst season of her career. Overwhelmed by sponsorship opportunities and overnight celebrity at age 19, she struggled handling the pressure to perform.

She wound up playing on the Japanese tour, filling a year-round golfing schedule. She altered her swing mechanics and disappeared into relative obscurity, but, in time, she rediscovered her confidence.

And since late 2012, she has soared past her peers on tour in the United States, becoming the latest in a string of players to stand out above the rest.

Park (2-over-par 74) won her second U.S. Women's Open on Sunday, beating I.K. Kim (74) by four strokes at Sebonack Golf Club. She became the first female player to win the first three majors in a season since Babe Zaharias in 1950.

Zaharias won the year's first three majors in 1950 – when there were only three. But women's golf is a much bigger, international game than it was then, and sweeping the first three majors was nearly unthinkable until Park did it.

Granted, the LPGA has decreed that there are five majors this season, but just winning the fourth in a row – the Women's British Open – still would be a piece of history, if not a conventional Grand Slam.

Park, 24, won the Kraft Nabisco and LPGA Championship for her first two major titles of the year. The Women's British Open is Aug. 1-4 and the Evian Championship is Sept. 12-15. Park won the French event last year before it became a major championship.

Five years after winning her first Open, Park made brutal Sebonack appear pedestrian as one of only three women below par.

"I just tried to stay calm and I think I did," Park said.

In her past 24 events, Park has won eight times and finished second five times, broadening the gulf between herself and the others on the LPGA. She has become the latest iteration of the tour's line of recurring champions, from Annika Sorenstam to Karrie Webb to Lorena Ochoa to Yani Tseng.

Sorenstam, watching all week as an analyst for the Golf Channel, noted imperturbable composure.

"She can still improve in some areas," Sorenstam said. "And that's a scary thought."

Nothing seems to faze Park anymore, said her caddie, Brad Beecher. On the course, he avoided mentioning the possibility of another major victory, even with a multiple-stroke lead, until Park finished her third shot on No. 18.

"I said, enjoy this walk," Beecher recalled. "You're about to join history."

Park smiled. "Funny enough," she said to him. "I don't feel that nervous."

Park said experience, and weekly conversations with a mental coach, have helped her remain calm.

Her cross-hand putting style, which she has used since she was 10, worked magic on Sebonack's greens.

"Her eye for it at the moment, her feel for it," Beecher said, "it's the best I've seen."

Sebonack, in just its seventh year of existence and bookended by two of the most recognizable courses in the nation, Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America, proved to be a stern test.

The course flustered the former teenage sensation Michelle Wie, who withdrew 17 holes into her second round, at 11 over, with the official cause given as illness. It caused a rift between Jessica Korda and her caddie, Jason Gilroyed, midway through the third round. Korda abruptly fired Gilroyed after the ninth hole and replaced him with her boyfriend, Johnny DelPrete, who carried her bag the remainder of the tournament, which she completed in a tie for seventh place.

On Sunday, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, who began the day seven strokes back in third place, bogeyed her first three holes, quickly falling out of contention.

With that, the tournament was whittled to two – Park and Kim, her playing partner and Korean compatriot. It all but ensured that an Asian-born player would win a 10th consecutive women's major.

Kim birdied the second hole to cut Park's lead to three strokes. But a bogey on the fourth set her back again, and Park pushed her lead to five strokes with nine holes left.

Newsday and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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