CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) — Inbee Park opened her LPGA Tour season with a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Kia Classic on the eve of the first major championship of the season.
The Hall of Famer finally put it all together at Aviara Golf Club, winning her 21st LPGA Tour title after finishing second on the scenic course in 2010, 2016 and 2019. She tied LPGA Founder Marilynn Smith for 25th place on the victory list and moved within four of matching Se Ri Pak for the South Korean mark.
“She’s somebody that I always looked up to when I was growing up, and obviously she’s always big in my heart,” Park said about Pak. “Trying to follow her footstep is always a great thing. Really happy that I’m getting close.”
Park closed with a 2-under 70 for a five-stroke victory — the same margin she took into the day — over Lexi Thompson and Amy Olson. Park finished at 14-under 274, opening with rounds of 66, 69 and 69.
The 32-year-old Park, ranked fourth in the world, now heads to the desert for the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage. She won at Mission Hills in 2013 for the third of her seven major titles. She also won in her first LPGA Tour start of the year in 2013, accomplishing the feat in the Honda LPGA Thailand.
“It was a great week this week,” Park said. “It was my first week back out in three months or so, and I played so good. I mean, I couldn’t believe how I was doing out there this week. I thought this week was just kind of a preparation for next week, but I exceeded so much more. I’m just really happy.”
After making three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, Park bogeyed the 12th and 13th, then got the two strokes back with a 40-foot eagle putt on the short par-4 16th. She three-putted the 18th for a bogey.
Park gave the tour its first international winner of the year, after Americans Jessica and Nelly Korda and Austin Ernst swept the first three tournaments.
Thompson bogeyed the last for a 69 to match Olson (68) at 9 under.
“Inbee played great, so she was a tough chase,” Thompson said. “But I’m just happy with where my game is going into next week.”
Top-ranked Jin Young Ko was 8 under after a 70.