By David Shefter, USGA
Edina, Minn. – Welcome to the U.S. Women’s Open, presented by the Weather Channel.
Seems like a recurring theme. Make that five consecutive Women’s Opens that have been plagued by some sort of weather issue. When forecasts replace fairways and roars are from the heavens, not the grandstands, everyone gets a little off kilter, except for Jim Cantore.
As forecasted, thunderstorms rolled into Interlachen Country Club on Friday afternoon, suspending play for two hours and 27 minutes.
But before Mother Nature groaned, Angela Park returned to a familiar spot. One year ago as a wide-eyed 18-year-old LPGA Tour rookie, Park owned the 36-hole lead at thunderstorm-plagued Pine Needles, only to finish tied for second with Lorena Ochoa. Last year, the first round carried well into Friday and the third round didn’t get finished until Sunday morning.
|Minea Blomqvist, lining up a putt on No. 7 Friday, joked afterward that she should have worn makeup if she knew she would be interviewed. (John Mummert/USGA)
On Friday, only 36 players were still stranded when darkness fell. The second round will resume at 7 a.m. Saturday, with the cut (4-over 150) and third round to follow. The players who need to come back will play in pairs of threes off the first and 10th tees. The hope is that the third round could begin roughly around 10 a.m. CDT.
Thanks to a morning starting time, Park never endured the delay. After a sizzling 6-under-par 66, she is positioned once again for a weekend run at the biggest championship in women’s golf. Her 6-under total of 140 was good enough for a one-stroke lead over 23-year-old Mina Blomqvist of Finland, 19-year-old Korean Inbee Park (no relation) and Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson, the 1993 Kraft Nabisco champion. Blomqvist and Inbee Park each carded 4-under 69s, while Alfredsson had a 71 on the 6,789, par-73 layout.
“It's nice to be able to see the leaders for once,” said Alfredsson.
Defending champion Cristie Kerr could have been in that group, but a bogey at the ninth, her last of the day, pushed the Floridian into a share of fifth at 4-under 142 with six-time LPGA Tour winner Paula Creamer of Pleasanton, Calif., and 2005 Women’s British Open champion Jeong Jang of Korea. Kerr posted a 3-under 70, Creamer shot 72 and Jang had a 69.
“I was in good rhythm,” said Kerr, who endured the long delay. “But I was happy to hit a few practice balls on the range [and] work on my swing a bit.”
Three-time champion Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, competing in her last Women’s Open, got back into contention with a 3-under 70 and now sits five off the pace, while Lorena Ochoa continued to struggle on the greens, carding a 74 for a 36-hole total of 147. Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Maria Jose Uribe stayed in the hunt with a 1-over 74 and stands three off the pace at 3-under 143.
First-round co-leaders Pat Hurst and Ji Young Oh each struggled. Hurst carded a 78 (145), while Oh was three over for her round (three under overall) with one hole to play Saturday morning.
For Angela Park, a victory at the Women’s Open would cap a very special month in which she just became a U.S. citizen. Using the experience from Pine Needles, Park hopes she can close the deal by etching her name on the trophy.
Park made three long putts on her final nine holes, including a 30-foot eagle at the par-5 second. Her lone bogey of the round came at the sixth.
“I keep reminding myself that there are a lot more holes to be played and anything can happen in one hole,” said Angela Park. “From last year, I think I would take a lot more patience and a lot more knowing where not to miss the greens or where to hit my ball and to just be patient and just be focused out there.”
In 2007, Angela Park was an iron woman on tour, playing all but one event – 29 in all – en route to eight top-10 finishes and just one missed cut. Her 2008 season has been more inconsistent, having already missed three cuts and finishing no better than a tie for sixth since starting the year with a T5 at the SBS Open at Turtle Bay.
“It doesn’t matter how bad my season was or how inconsistent I’ve been throughout the year,” said Angela, “because I know what I am capable of. I had really high expectations coming into this year and I think that was a negative. I think I just had to take it one tournament at a time. Like my coach (Don Brown) says, one shot at a time, one birdie at a time, one hole at a time and one day at a time.
“Not playing well coming into this tournament has actually been a positive thing to me. I want to take it as a positive effect. And I think it will be.”
Put “Conducted by the USGA” in front of a competition and the best of Inbee Park steps forward. Not only did she win the U.S. Girls’ Junior at 14 in 2002, she finished as the runner-up in 2003 and ’05. She also was a semifinalist a semifinalist at the ’03 Women’s Amateur and finished tied for fourth in just her second Women’s Open appearance last year.
“I like challenging golf courses,” said Inbee Park, who has missed just three cuts in 15 LPGA Tour events in’08 and is coming off a tied for eighth in Rochester, N.Y., last week. “It’s really a lot of fun and a really good test for [my] game.”
Like Angela Park, Inbee Park also eagled the second hole, knocking a 5-wood to 15 feet. Bogeys at five and six momentarily sidetracked her, but she rebounded with a 9-iron to 7 feet at the seventh and a 6-iron to 3 feet at the ninth. She also birdied 12 and the difficult 17th, delivering a 7-iron approach to 10 feet.
“I’ve had a couple of chances this year and didn’t play good on the weekend,” said Inbee. “So hopefully this time, yes.”
Blomqvist, like Inbee and Angela Park, enjoyed a fruitful junior career and elected to turn pro at 18 over the college route. She first laid her eyes on Interlachen six years ago as a member of the European Junior Solheim Cup team that competed at nearby Oak Ridge C.C. When that inaugural competition concluded, she had the opportunity to watch the regular Solheim Cup up close and personal.
She returned to the scene for the first time on Monday and was amazed by the crowds. Four years ago, she raised eyebrows by shooting a third-round 62 at the Women’s British Open at Sunningdale in 2004, setting an LPGA record for the lowest round in a major championship.
Thoughts of such a round stirred inside her head Friday after starting with back-to-back birdies at 10 and 11. While that didn’t happen, Blomqvist was quite content to finish with a birdie-3 at the ninth, knocking her approach to 4 feet to cap a brilliant 69. Then it was off to entertain reporters with her candid and honest persona.
“I’m upset because I forgot to put on makeup today,” said Blomqvist as she took the podium above the 10th tee. “I didn’t think I was going to play that well. I should be looking nice for the media.”
For about 10 minutes, Blomqvist filled up notebooks and video sound bytes from everything from the state of Finnish golf to her longtime boyfriend, now fiancé. Blomqvist is the lone Finnish female on the LPGA Tour and 2000 British Amateur champion Mikko Llonen carries the country’s banner on the European Tour. Two other females are on the Ladies European Tour and a handful more compete on the European Challenge Tour, a circuit equivalent to the Nationwide Tour and where Blomqvist’s fiancé Roope Kakko applies his wares.
In fact, Blomqvist took time off since the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in early June to caddie for Kakko.
“I’m a perfect caddie,” she said. “I have like two top-10s. So if this doesn’t work out, I go for that [job]. My boyfriend finished seventh, so that was good.”
And what did she get for compensation? “Of course, you know, I’m not cheap.”
Kakko is competing in Scotland this week and opened with a 1-over 72, three strokes higher than Blomqvist second-round score. She also kidded the media about her future surname.
In English, by substituting a vowel it loosely translates to a synonym for smelly.
“You should feel bad for me because it’s not very nice,” said Blomqvist laughing. “I just have to take it.”
Oh, and about that weather. Perhaps Blomqvist could have translated the word thunderstorm. That would be ukkosilma.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.