Off-form Inbee Park bids to get back in swing

Inbee Park overcomes her back problem to play a practice round at Turnberry yesterday. Picture: Getty
Inbee Park overcomes her back problem to play a practice round at Turnberry yesterday. Picture: Getty
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Inbee Park, the World No 1, has been suffering from a sore back since she flew into Scotland on Monday for the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry, so she was particularly relieved that the final practice day was bathed in sunshine.

Two years ago at St Andrews, the South Korean was weighed down by a heap of expectation as she chased the fourth leg of a season’s Grand Slam.

This visit to Scotland is far less stressful, but she is just as hungry for a first Women’s British Open title.

“2013 was the craziest pressure,” reflected the genial Park whose command of the English language is as impressive as her golf. “2014 was a little bit better and then, this year, I feel a lot less pressure. Last week [at a tournament in Michigan] I didn’t play well at all. I had one of my worst rounds of the year and I was just hitting the ball everywhere. So I come into this week with no expectations and I feel a little bit more relaxed.”

The back problem, she suggests, also lengthens her odds. But she has a personal physiotherapist as a member of her entourage and a few stretches and some acupuncture have helped ease the pain.

“I think it’s because of the long flight,” she deduced. “Yesterday I had a little bit of a back spasm and it was hard to bend down so I didn’t play because I didn’t want to irritate it in the bad weather. There’s still a little bit of pain but I can deal with it.

But, while she was playing down her own chances of success, she couldn’t have been happier with the course. She loves it. “I really enjoyed it out there, but I’m not sure if we are going to get the same conditions for the next four days,” she said with a hopeful glance skywards.

“It’s a very special venue and it’s a beautiful place to be. We get to play some very good courses but this is definitely one of the best. I also played on Monday when it was a little bit windier so I’ve seen it in two different conditions so now I feel ready.”

Scot Catriona Matthew, the Champion from Royal Lytham and St Annes six years ago, and England’s Charley Hull, two places higher at No 48 in the world rankings, are the leading British hopes, with 51-year-old Laura Davies still among the home favourites.

Matthew played in the Championship when it was first held in Scotland at Turnberry in 2002 – she finished tied 35th.

“Like every links course, you have to stay out of the bunkers, and here they are steeper than most,” said the North Berwick 45-year-old. “Avoiding the double-bogeys is the aim this week.

“Having won it before, I do feel this week is extra special and it always makes it even more special when it is in Scotland.”

Australian Karrie Webb – who is still a strong contender this week – won the Championship 13 years ago, and Hull is the other player in the field to have lifted a trophy at Turnberry.

She won a nationwide club competition ten years ago, when she was just nine. “I think there were 24,000 entries and I qualified for the finals and then beat a 35-year-old in a play-off for the trophy,” she recalled.

“I remember it was very windy and rainy and I was blown over at the tenth and 11th. When I was nine I played off 25 and then got down to five when I was ten and scratch at 11.

“I don’t think having won here before will give me any real advantage, but it does mean I have good memories of Turnberry. Back then I probably hit my drives about 150 yards – now I’m 110 yards longer.”

Davies, who won the title 29 years ago at Birkdale, suggested that Turnberry is “the most playable of the links courses”. She had a top-ten finish at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Ladies’ Open at Dundonald last week and was ninth in this Championship a year ago. Made a Dame last year, Davies is hoping to cement her status as Britian’s best-ever female golfer with a return to the Solheim Cup in Germany in September. She played in the first 12 before missing out when Europe won for a first time on US soil two years ago.

“A top-ten finish this week would help a great deal,” said the four-time major winner whose enthusiasm for the game just never seems to wane.

Lexi Thompson, the winner of the LPGA Tournament in Michigan on Sunday, is one of the new breed of talented Americans. The 20-year-old won her first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year and her buoyant disposition suggested she is more than ready for number two.