PHOENIX (AFP) ― World number one Park In-bee of South Korea takes 49-week run atop the rankings into the LPGA Founders Cup with Suzann Pettersen and defending champion Stacy Lewis in close pursuit.
Four-time major winner Park, coming off a victory at a Ladies European Tour event in China, was second in Thailand last month and shared fourth at Singapore earlier this month in LPGA events.
“I actually feel quite fresh coming here and it’s the first tournament in America in a while for me, so it actually feels like a season-opening tournament,” Park said.
“I didn’t forget the last three tournaments I had this year. I played quite good, and I hit the ball great. My ball striking, my physical, is stronger. I think I’m mentally a bit stronger, especially from the victory two weeks ago. I feel a lot more confident and I feel good about the season.”
She enters the first U.S. event of the season just 0.92 ahead of Norway’s Pettersen and 2.03 points ahead of American Lewis in the rankings.
“It probably has helped all three of us that we have competitors and try to push each other up and improve our games,” Park said.
“I don’t think about that every day, obviously. I’m just trying to play my best and if that’s good enough, that’s good. If not, if I become number two or three, there’s room to improve.”
Park won the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open and then last year rolled to victory in the year’s first three majors, taking the Kraft Nabisco, LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open as well as becoming the first South Korean to win LPGA Player of the Year honors.
“The things I’ve done were very amazing,” she said.
Last year, Lewis won the Founders Cup to become world number one for the first time. She had a run of 13 events with top-10 finishes ended in Singapore but managed only one win in that span.
“I was probably more frustrated that I didn’t win more,” Lewis said. “But I guess that just shows where my game’s at and that I’m hitting the ball well enough.”
After her reign was cut short by Park’s rise, Lewis admits she wants the top spot back.
“I would like to get back to number one just because I know now what to expect and I know how to handle it a little bit better,” Lewis said.
“I don’t feel like I played poorly enough to lose it. I feel like In-bee and Suzann have just risen their games to another level.
“I definitely want to get back there but at the same time I’m doing a lot of good things, so it’s hard to really beat yourself up over it.”
Pettersen is more worried about playing her best golf than what she needs to do to become number one for the first time in her career.
“If you sit and think about that you will go crazy,” she said. “I really want to see how good my game is and how good it can be. If it’s good enough to be the best player in the world, great.
“There’s a dream inside of me that kind of still is very much alive, but it’s not something that I think about every day.”
After several prior near-miss chances at number one, the 32-year-old from Oslo is more relaxed about her position these days.
“This is the most comfortable I’ve been with the sport,” Pettersen said. “I can’t say that I don’t think about being the best player in the world, but it really doesn’t trigger me as much. If you win, the rest will take care of itself.”