ROGERS -World number one Park In-bee, rested after an exhausting major victory at the LPGA Championship two weeks ago, tunes up for her next major test at this week's Northwest Arkansas Championship. The $2 million LPGA event, a 54-hole showdown with 144 players seeking the $300,000 top prize at 6,389-yard Pinnacle Country Club, is the final event before next week's US Women's Open at Southampton, New York.
And with Park having won the year's first two majors at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship, this could be a crucial week in the 24-year-old South Korean's bid to make history. If Park wins next week, she will match the 1950 major start of Babe Zaharias as the best in LPGA history, and Zaharias won the first three majors in a year when there were only three designated women's majors.
"This week is a good preparation for next week," Park said Wednesday. "Everybody looks forward to that tournament. That's the biggest tournament of the year. I think it's just a lot of fun. Even if I don't win, I'm really going to enjoy myself next week."
To complete a current LPGA Grand Slam, Park would need to win the US Women's Open, which she captured in 2008 for her first major title, as well as at the Women's British Open, where she was runner-up last year, and the Evian Championship, a first-year major in France where she is defending champion. For now, Park is just happy to have had a week off after struggling to finish off her LPGA Championship victory.
"Last day I struggled a little bit with my ball striking, so I worked on that a little bit," Park said. "I was really exhausted after the round. I feel very refreshed coming here after a week of break.
I feel ready to go again." She spent the week in Florida practicing leisurely with South Korean pal and tour rival Choi Na-Yeon. "I was very lucky to actually have a week off after a major tournament win," Park said. "I've been fortunate enough to have a bit of time off and really enjoy myself." Park, who shared fourth at the Arkansas event last year, said she feels the pressure of defending her top ranking. "The number one spot is a lot-of-pressure spot," Park said. "I feel more pressure than before, of course. I always thought that I was very fortunate to actually play for number one every week and that's something very special.
Number one spot is a tough spot, but I've just got to try to enjoy it as much as I can."
Japan's Ai Miyazato, who turned 28 on Wednesday, birdied the final hole last year at this event to win her ninth career LPGA title, but the former world number one -- a five-time winner in 2010 -- has not won since. "Last year was very special," Miyazato said. "I was getting close last few years, but then I couldn't reach to the top. But then last year I did it, so it was a really exciting moment."
Miyazato, ranked 10th, was runner-up at the Founders Cup but is still trying to pull her game together well enough for another triumph. "I've been having a good season so far. My game is pretty consistent this year," she said. "Unfortunately it didn't come together yet, but I feel good with my game so far." All but three of the world's 25 top-ranked players will compete this week, including second-ranked American Stacy Lewis, who attended the nearby University of Arkansas, and world number three Suzann Pettersen of Norway.