Pak shows she's back

South Korean revives career, defeats Webb on extra hole

Lpga Championship

June 12, 2006|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

A year ago, the Hall of Fame careers of Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb were in perplexing free falls.

Pak, whose emergence as a star in 1998 had inspired thousands of female golfers in South Korea, had been hampered by a nagging finger injury and worn down by a self-described case of burnout. Webb, once the No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour, went winless for the first time in her career.

Yesterday at Bulle Rock golf course in Havre de Grace, in a playoff to conclude an exhausting final round of the LPGA Championship, Pak ended a two-year drought by beating Webb on the first extra hole of sudden death in nearly the same manner that Webb had won the season's first major.

After her 4-iron approach from 201 yards on the 18th fairway stopped inches from the flagstick, Pak uncharacteristically hugged and high-fived her caddie, then watched Webb send her own approach 20 feet short. Webb missed her putt and Pak, whose bogey on the final hole of regulation forced the playoff, tapped in and was showered with champagne by fellow pro Christina Kim.

Pak and Webb had finished regulation at 8-under-par 280, one stroke ahead of Mi Hyun Kim of South Korea and Ai Miyazato of Japan. Michelle Wie, Cristie Kerr, Pat Hurst and Shi Hyun Ahn, another of the 32 Koreans playing on the LPGA Tour, were two strokes back. Three-time defending champion Annika Sorenstam was three strokes behind.

"I'm very happy to be back again," said Pak, 28, who started the day two strokes behind third-round co-leaders Miyazato and Hurst. "I'm a very lucky person."

The win was her third in the LPGA Championship, her fifth major and the 23rd overall in nine years on the LPGA Tour for Pak, who needs only to finish her 10th season to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Webb, who qualified last year, missed a chance at her second straight major this season and seventh overall.

"Obviously right now I'm pretty disappointed, but you know if I look at it, I'm really happy to just give myself a chance," said the 31-year-old Australian.

No less than a half-dozen players had the same opportunity. Wie was undone by what is becoming repetitively erratic putting in pressure situations. Ahn and Kerr were done in by errant shots into a pond on the par-4 18th. In pursuit of making history, Sorenstam took too long to make a charge.

"I think it's hitting shots when I need to and making putts early on," said the 16-year-old Wie, who tied for fifth place.

The shot by Pak on the first playoff hole (No. 18) was reminiscent of what Webb had done earlier this year at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. There, Webb holed a 116-yard wedge from the fairway for an eagle on the last hole of regulation and then beat Lorena Ochoa of Mexico on the first hole of sudden death.

"I thought I was getting my own medicine back," Webb said with a smile later. "I thought it was going in the hole."

For Pak, it made up for what happened on the 18th hole earlier, when she sent a 20-foot birdie putt about 7 feet past the hole and missed the putt for par. Pak later admitted that her celebration in the middle of the 18th fairway during the playoff was a rarity for a player not known for showing emotion.

"First time I jumped on the golf course, it's true," she said with a laugh. "It didn't go in, but it still feels great."

Before that shot, it appeared as if Webb had a better chance to win. After missing what she called "reasonable" birdie putts on each of the last three holes, including one from no more than 3 1/2 feet on the par-3 17th, Webb outdrove Pak by some 70 yards on the playoff hole, a 385-yard par-4.

"I thought I had the upper hand," said Webb, who was forced to take a drop after her drive landed on a sprinkler drain. "But then she hit an unbelievable shot and it's really hard to come up with the goods after [that]. It's hard to get focused and hit a really good shot and give yourself a chance of making birdie."

Webb couldn't. Hitting a 9-iron approach from 131 yards, Webb watched her shot land short of where she wanted, then saw her putt for birdie to extend the playoff turn left before the cup and roll a couple of feet past. After congratulating Pak, Webb thought of something she had said to playing partner Sherri Steinhauer yesterday after playing with Pak on Saturday.

"I said [to Steinhauer]: `You watch, she will be back playing good in the near future,'" Webb said of Pak. "I wish I could call it like that all the time."

Webb also recalled a conversation she had with Pak after the Kraft Nabisco.

"She came up to me whenever it was the next time I saw her and gave me a big hug and said, `Good to see you back playing well, and now it is my turn; I'll win the next one,' " Webb said. "And she went out and did it."

Pak said that the four months she took off last season after suffering a fractured finger on her left hand during the Women's British Open proved to be a blessing, helping her not only get physically healthy but mentally recharged as well.

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