RIO de JANIERO — Inbee Park ran away with the gold medal for South Korea on Sunday by shooting a 66 for the third time this week to finish at 16 under for the tournament. She was five shots clear of Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who took silver.
Park has won 17 times on the LPGA Tour in her career, including seven major championships, and qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame earlier this year. In the context of her career, this is not a surprising win. But in the context of this season, it is. Park has largely been hampered by injuries for most of 2016 including a balky thumb for the last few months. She has been a non-factor until this week.
“Everybody has been really asking me, where does this come from,” said Park. “It’s just hard to explain. You know what, I just gave my body a good rest and I tried to gather a lot of things mentally. Tried to come here mentally and physically strong, and that’s what I did. And I said, you know, I didn’t expect much of a result, but what I want to do is I want to show all the people how hard I’ve worked. If I’m lucky, I’m able to show the result.”
Her performance in Rio was sublime, though. Back-to-back 66s to open the tournament before a 1-under 70 on Friday to take the 54-hole lead. Then she closed like the boss she is even with the No. 1 player in the world (Ko) on her tail for most of the day with a 69 over the final 18 holes.
Not only did Park have to tend to her injured thumb, but the pressure of winning gold was immense. Maybe even more so on the women’s side as pretty much every top player competed (unlike the men).
“Because there is so much attention from my country and from all over the world, I think it’s definitely a lot more attention than the major championship,” said Park earlier in the week.
“I definitely feel a lot more pressure. I’ve felt it since the first round of this week. I feel exhausted ‑‑ it feels exhausted, every day, it feels like every day is a final round of the major championship in the final group.”
While Park cruised home with a 1-under 35 on the back nine, playing partner Ko birdied three of the last five holes to claim that silver medal. She made a birdie at the last to beat out Shanshan Feng of China, who finished at 10 under and earned the bronze.
The U.S. went medal-less after Stacy Lewis left a putt on No. 18 short that would have gotten her into a playoff for the bronze. She finished T4, one shot back of Feng.