SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Not even the weather, it seems, can interfere with Inbee Park these days.
Thanks to a thick layer of fog blanketing Sebonack Golf Club early Friday evening, second-round play at the 68th US Women’s Open was suspended, the horn going off at 6:40 p.m. Players had the option of finishing the hole they were on or stopping immediately.
Park was on the 18th hole when the horn blew, and chose to continue, even though visibility was decreasing by the minute.
No matter. Park knocked her approach shot on the par-5 closing hole to 10 feet, then ran in the birdie putt, ending her round and giving the leader board a very familiar look: Park holding the outright lead.
Her sixth birdie of the day capped a 4-under-par 68, good for a 36-hole total of 9 under. That’s two shots better than I.K. Kim (69), five shots lower than everybody else, and a sure sign that not even Mother Nature can sidetrack Park as she marches confidently toward history.
“I think we got very lucky that we finished,” Park said. “I’d say it was a little tougher to play in the fog, but I made a birdie, so I don’t think it really came into effect for me. I was able to see the pin on the third shot, and I was able to read the green.”
Park already has five victories this season, including wins at the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA Championship, the year’s first two majors on the LPGA Tour. By winning the US Women’s Open, Park would join Babe Zaharias (1950) as the only players in tour history to win the first three major championships in a season.
One of the players paired with Park the first two days — who had a front-row seat for the South Korean’s 67-68 start — issued an ominous prediction for nearly everyone else in the field.
“Inbee, she’s played so good the last two days that she is going to be tough to catch if you are not already under par,” said Stacy Lewis, who is 3 over after shooting a 76. “It’s frustrating because she’s not exactly knocking the flags down. She’s making putts off the edge of the green, ones that you wouldn’t expect her to make. It’s definitely frustrating for us watching.”
At least Park and Lewis will have the luxury of sleeping in on Saturday morning. There were 41 players who got caught in the fog and failed to finish their second rounds; play is scheduled to resume at 7 a.m. Saturday, and after the 36-hole cut is made, threesomes will be used for the third round, with groups going off Nos. 1 and 10.
Park’s lead easily could have been larger. Compared to the first round, she had a better ball-striking day — missing just one fairway and four greens — but her putter failed to convert a number of mid-range birdie looks. She holed two long putts from off the green, making up for four or five much shorter ones that Park — and Lewis — expected her to make.
“I gave myself a lot of good opportunities,” Park said. “I left a couple out there, but very satisfied with today’s score.”
There are 10 players under par with two rounds of stroke play remaining, but the two at the top have some match-play history with each other in a US Golf Association event. Kim beat Park in the final match of the 2005 US Girls’ Junior, 5 and 4; Park was looking for her second Girls’ Junior title, after winning in 2002.
“I lost to I.K. in the final, but I think I was just very proud of myself that I made it,” Park said. “Match play was so hard. I think that just made me a lot stronger and hopefully this time I can play a little better.”
Park and Kim are separated in age by less than one month: Kim recently turned 25, while Park will on July 12. They’ve both won on the LPGA Tour, although Park has more victories (seven to three) and majors (three to none). They’re from a country, South Korea, that has produced the last four LPGA Tour major champions overall, and four of the past five US Women’s Open winners.
Now they’ll be in the final group of the third round.
“I’m looking forward to playing with her,” Park said. “She had her tough time [last year] in the Nabisco, but I think she handled herself very good in a very positive way. She’s a very consistent player.”
Kim missed a 15-inch putt on the final hole of the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship that would have given her a one-stroke victory. She lost in a playoff, and hasn’t won on tour since.
Now all she needs to do is overcome a two-shot deficit against the best player in the world. Talk about a challenge.
“There’s times that I was disappointed, but I think, you know, I have faith [that] if you do your best, everything is going to be OK,” said Kim, who also birdied the 18th hole, one of five she made in the second round. “I want to thank the USGA and LPGA Tour for making me a better golfer.”