HSBC Women's Champions: Hot Park may put rivals in shade

PARK In Bee's stellar 2013 LPGA season had fans rushing to crown the latest queen of women's golf and rivals scrambling to find new ways to compete.

And the South Korean world No.1 is eager to do the same this year.

"It's going to be tough to win so many tournaments, but my goal is to maintain the top spot at the end of the year," the California resident, 25, told The Straits Times yesterday at the official launch of the HSBC Women's Champions tournament at Raffles City Convention Centre.

"It's not going to be easy because the gap between the top three is small."

So small, in fact, that despite Park being just the second player in LPGA history to win the first three Majors of the season last year, she could lose her top world ranking if world No.2 Suzann Pettersen wins this weekend at the Sentosa Golf Club.

Nevertheless, she can look back at a year when she was a byword for craft and consistency, as she held the world No.1 spot for 46 straight weeks.

Since official rankings were introduced in 2006, just three players have had longer reigns at the top than Park - Sweden's Annika Sorenstam (60 weeks), Taiwan's Tseng Ya-ni (109) and Mexico's Lorena Ochoa who had a whopping 158-week stranglehold between 2007 and 2010.

While Sorenstam's 60-week domination is next in sight, Park insists any comparisons to the retired Swede is a tad premature.

"The records that Annika, Ya-ni and Lorena have are amazing so I don't think about surpassing them," said Park, who also recorded 10 top-10 finishes - including six runner-up spots - in 24 events last year.

"I've got many years to go to be like them - there's a million things I want to achieve."

Also on her bucket list - to live with 10 dogs, get a mansion on the beach in Malibu and to travel the world without her golf gear.

For now, she needs her trusty bag of clubs to fend off a chasing pack led by Pettersen, who was compelled by Park's brilliance to fine-tune her own game during the off-season.

"It was hard to catch In Bee last year - she was playing at a whole new level," said the 14-time LPGA Tour winner.

"For anyone to win three Majors in a year, that's going to take a long time to be repeated."

She has been busy in the off-season, working out in the gym. The added power she brings this year has increased her club head speed, in turn bumping her average driving distance by 15 metres to 235m.

"These are small pieces to a big puzzle," the 14-year pro noted. 

"It's nice to have a second gear, which I believe is the key to getting to No. 1."

Park and Pettersen, together with American fan favourite Paula Creamer and China's world No. 6 Feng Shanshan, enjoy a light- hearted photo call yesterday, donning traditional martial arts outfits of the region for the media.

The stage is thus perfectly set for a battle royale at the Women's Champions. The picturesque Serapong course at the Sentosa Golf Club will play host to 58 of the world's top 60 players from tomorrow until Sunday.

Teenager Amanda Tan - the tournament's youngest player at age 14 - will represent Singapore at the US$1.4 million (S$1.77 million) showpiece.

The players have their own plans for tackling Serapong's zippy greens, skinny fairways and thick rough.

While Park aims to drive long to attack the par-fives, Pettersen's main concern is finding the right spot on the fairways or risk her approaches being blocked by trees and other hazards.

Creamer, on the other hand, wants to keep it simple, saying: "The greens here are among the best we have on Tour. If you stick to the basics, don't try anything too fancy, this course will reward you with a good score."

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