Park wins in her golf’s Olympic return

Park, battling a thumb injury all year that led to speculation she was going to retire, had not faced top competition in two months and missed the last two majors on the LPGA Tour.

Park already has seven majors, including the career Grand Slam, and earlier this year she became the youngest in history qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.   -  Getty Images

Inbee Park’s first victory of the season might just be the biggest of her career a gold medal in women’s golf. Park made three straight birdies early in the final round Saturday, never let anyone closer than three shots the rest of the way and closed with a 5-under 66 for a five-shot victory at Olympic Golf Course.

Lydia Ko of New Zealand didn’t stand a chance, and neither did anyone else. Ko, the No.1 player in women’s golf, at least made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 69 to claim the silver. Shanshan Feng of China shot 69 and took the bronze.

Park, battling a thumb injury all year that led to speculation she was going to retire, had not faced top competition in two months and missed the last two majors on the LPGA Tour.

She took time off to prepare for the Olympics, but when she missed the cut in a Korean LPGA event, the 28-year-old South Korean heard chatter that she should give up her spot to another player in better form.

Instead, she reminded those in a country where golf is a passion why she ranks among the best. Park already has seven majors, including the career Grand Slam, and earlier this year she became the youngest in history qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Now she has the first gold medal awarded in women’s golf since 1900.

Stacy Lewis had a chance at a medal for the Americans with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes. She missed her 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole and shot 66, finishing one shot out of the bronze. Maria Verchenova of Russia posted the lowest score, a 62 that featured the third hole-in-one of the tournament.

This final round, however, was all about Park. South Korea has been the dominant nation in women’s golf, and Park brought home the biggest prize. A large gallery held up South Korean flags for her to see behind every green and on the way to every tee.

Park kept her composure, even as she was making one birdie after another to demoralize Ko and anyone else trying to challenge her. When she tapped in from 2 feet for par on the final hole, she raised her arms and tilted her head to a cloudy sky. She finished at 16-under 268, the same score with which Justin Rose won the gold medal last Sunday in men’s golf.