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Park wins US Women’s Open by four, captures third straight major title

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Inbee Park set many golfing goals. Etching her name alongside Babe Zaharias was never one of them.

Yet now they’re the only two players to win the first three majors of the year. Park became the first to accomplish the feat in the modern era Sunday with her second U.S. Women’s Open title.

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN

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“Trying to put my name next to hers means just so much,” Park said. “I would think I would never get there; it’s somewhere that I’ve never dreamed of. But all of a sudden, I’m there.”

The world’s top-ranked player finished at 8 under to win by four strokes. Her 2-over 74 in the final round was more than enough, with Sebonack’s trying conditions keeping any rivals from making a run. Only three players were under par for the tournament.

Fellow South Korean I.K. Kim also shot 74 for her second runner-up finish at a major.

Zaharias won the year’s first three majors in 1950 — back when there were only three. Now there are five, so Grand Slam might not quite be the right term if Park wins all of them.

Ahead by four strokes at the start of the round, Park birdied the ninth and 10th holes to extend her lead. She has won six times already this year, including three straight tournaments. Park added to another historic U.S. Women’s Open victory in 2008, when she became the event’s youngest champion at age 19.

“I didn’t know what was going on at that time,” Park said. “I played very good golf then, but I didn’t know what I was playing for, and that was just my first win. It was a great championship then, but now I think I really appreciate more and I really know what this means.”

So Yeon Ryu shot 72 to finish third at 1 under. South Korean players took the top three spots and have won the last five majors.

Ryu and Na Yeon Choi, the last two U.S. Women’s Open champs, sprayed Park with champagne after she made her final putt on the 18th green.

With lashing wind and devilish greens, Sebonack was a classically troublesome U.S. Women’s Open course. And once Park built a lead, nobody could mount a charge.

She certainly wasn’t going to make enough mistakes to come back to the field. Park had just 10 bogeys and no double bogeys in four rounds.

She predicted Saturday that shooting even par in the final round would be enough, and she sure was right. All of four players were under par Sunday — though that was still more than the third round, when only Park achieved it.

Kim birdied No. 2 to pull within three strokes; she couldn’t claw closer. And when she bogeyed the fourth hole, the deficit was back to four shots.

Park bogeyed the sixth and seventh, but so did Kim.

Kim had what would have qualified as a sensational week if not for Park, finishing at least three strokes better than everyone but the player currently dominating the sport.

“You can obviously feel for someone like I.K. Kim who would be winning any other U.S. Open on this golf course if it weren’t for Inbee,” said seven-time major champion Karrie Webb.

This was Kim’s fourth top-four finish at a U.S. Women’s Open, but she’s still seeking her first major title. She was a foot away last year at the Kraft Nabisco, then missed a short putt on No. 18 that would have clinched the championship and went on to lose in a playoff.

Asked if she feels she’s on the verge of a major breakthrough, Kim paused for a moment then said: “Yeah, to be honest, yeah, it’s time to win it.”

“But I think things have to come naturally,” she added, “and it’s great to play with Inbee, and she’s doing so well. Seeing her doing it, it just makes me want it more.”

Americans Paula Creamer (72) and Angela Stanford (74) and England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff (76) tied for fourth at 1 over. Shadoff was alone in third at 3 under after the third round but opened Sunday with three straight bogeys.

Soon-to-be Oklahoma State player Casie Cathrea shot 70 on Sunday to match Shanshan Feng for the best round of the day and finish as the low amateur at 9 over. Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old New Zealander who won the Canadian Open last August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner, was next at 11 over.

Park also became the second player to win the U.S. Women’s Open after victories in her previous two tournaments. Mickey Wright did it in 1964.

The 24-year-old Park won the Kraft Nabisco Championship and Wegman’s LPGA Championship for her first two major titles of the year. Up next is the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews on Aug. 1-4.

The Evian Championship is Sept. 12-15. Park won the French event last year before it became a major championship.

Park contemplated the current definition of a Grand Slam.

“So I think the British Open is one I have to win,” she said. “So it would be great if I could win five, but I still think four means a Grand Slam.

Laughing, she added: “I think four out of five is very big.”

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Park wins US Women’s Open by four, captures third straight major title

Haas wins AT&T National by three, gives him titles in four straight years

BETHESDA, Md. — Bill Haas made the long walk across a makeshift bridge and under the grandstands to the 18th green for the trophy presentation, high-fiving kids along the railing and raising his cap to thousands of fans who cheered as they saw him coming.

His victory Sunday in the AT&T National was even sweeter when he compared it with all the times he failed.

AT&T NATIONAL

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“As many times as I’ve choked and hit bad shots and I’ve been nervous and it hasn’t worked out — I was feeling all those things today — and to hit good, quality golf shots down the stretch is such a good feeling,” Haas said. “I wish I could explain it. It’s amazing.”

His golf spoke volumes.

Haas pulled away from a crowd of contenders with three straight birdies, two good pars and one good hop. It led to a 5-under 66, giving him a three-shot win at Congressional over Roberto Castro and putting him into distinguished company on two levels.

Haas has won at least one PGA Tour event in each of the last four years, joining Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose. And he kept the pedigree of champions at the AT&T National on a day when a half-dozen players were trying to win their first PGA Tour event. In the seven-year history of the tournament, Rose was the lowest-ranked player to win. He was No. 35 when he won at Aronimink in 2010. Haas started the week at No. 29.

Haas is honest to fault, which explains why he is too hard on himself. He talked about how he “threw up on myself” at Riviera when he lost a three-shot lead in the final round, and he twice used the word “choke” in describing past failures.

“That’s terrible to say that `I choke’ and `I throw up on myself,’ but I’m just honest that I did that,” he said. “But go from there. How do you get better? Don’t do it again, you know? That’s my best statement. Just don’t do that again. Today, I didn’t do it. I think it makes it that much sweeter, too, when you can remember the times you stunk.”

He made only one bogey, making good on his pledge Saturday to clean up his card after a third round that included a triple bogey on the 11th hole.

As many as six players had a share of the lead at some point until Haas rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 8. Worried about a splotch of mud on his ball, he hit his approach to just inside 12 feet for birdie on the par-5 ninth, and then hit a 5-iron to 10 feet for another birdie on the 10th.

Haas led by at least two shots the entire back nine, though he never allowed himself to think about winning until he stood over a 3-foot par putt on the 18th hole and realized he had three putts to win.

“I just kept the ball in front of me,” Haas said. “Nothing too crazy.”

The 31-year-old won for the fifth time in his career, and this was the first one with Tiger Woods on the property — not to play, but to hand out the trophy. Woods sat out this week with an elbow injury and won’t play again until the British Open, though he was impressed with what he saw.

“He played beautifully today,” Woods said. “He handled his business through the tougher stretch of holes and pulled away.”

Castro, part of a four-way tie for the lead at the start of the final round, made Haas work for it.

“He didn’t make any mistakes, and the birdies on 9 and 10 were big,” Castro said after his 69.

The other leaders fell away. Andres Romero had a double bogey on the fourth hole and shot 75. James Driscoll didn’t make a birdie in his round of 74.

Jordan Spieth, the 19-year-old from Texas who needs a win to become a PGA Tour member and be eligible for the FedExCup playoffs, started his day by holing out from a fairway bunker for eagle and chipping in for birdie to tie for the lead. He dropped a shot at No. 11 — the hardest hole at Congressional — about the time Haas was on his critical run of birdies. Spieth had a 69 and finished sixth, pushing his earnings for the year over $1.1 million.

Castro bogeyed the opening hole, and that was his only mistake. He was one shot out of the lead at the turn, couldn’t match birdies with Haas at the par-3 10th, and then stuck with him the rest of the day.

“It helped that Roberto played so well,” Haas said.

Haas, who finished on 12-under 272, never allowed himself to think about winning, even after he seized control around the turn. Congressional wouldn’t let him. Even though he made 15 birdies on the weekend, he remembered the triple bogey on the 11th hole Saturday that temporarily derailed him.

This time, he found the fairway, hit onto the green, took two putts for par and exhaled.

Haas saved par from a bunker on the par-3 13th with a 6-foot putt that swirled 360 degrees around the cup before falling, and then picked up an unlikely birdie on the 14th when his 9-iron was drifting toward a mound covered with shaggy rough to the right of the green. It hopped off the mound to about 10 feet, and he went from a possible bogey to a birdie when he made the putt.

He made one more birdie with a wedge that checked up a foot from hole on the par-5 16th, and Haas was on his way.

The biggest struggle after that was hoisting the silver trophy of the U.S. Capitol over his head in the stifling heat of the closing ceremony on the 18th green.

Haas was still smarting over losing a three-shot lead in the final round at Riviera, making five bogeys in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round. He had the 36-hole lead at the Memorial until a 76-71 weekend.

He was solid on Sunday at Congressional, and the win moved him to No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings with the playoffs about two months away. That’s important to Haas, who won the FedEx Cup in 2011 and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship last year.

D.H. Lee made nine birdies to match a tournament-best 64 and tied for third with Jason Kokrak, who briefly shared the lead on the front nine and had a 69. Stewart Cink closed with a 67 and finished alone in fifth, his best finish on the PGA Tour in stroke play since he won the British Open four years ago at Turnberry.

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Haas wins AT&T National by three, gives him titles in four straight years

Perry wins Senior Players by two over Couples and Waldorf for first major

PITTSBURGH — Kenny Perry tried not to get ahead of himself Sunday on the 18th tee at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship. He knew all too well how quickly fortunes can change on golf’s biggest stages.

There was the devastation at the PGA Championship in 1996. Disaster at the Masters in 2009. Disappointment at the Senior PGA Championship last month.

SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

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If there was a way to lose a major tournament, the affable 52-year-old Kentuckian seemed to have found it during his otherwise sterling career.

“I thought I was snakebit,” Perry said. “I got close so many times and I just seemed to mess up down the homestretch and not make it happen.”

This time, Perry didn’t leave anything to chance.

After tap-in birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 gave him a two-shot lead over Fred Couples, Perry made par on the No. 18 to close a spectacular weekend at Fox Chapel. His bogey-free 6-under 64 left him at 19-under 261, two shots ahead of Fred Couples and Duffy Waldorf.

“My word was patience,” Perry said. “I wasn’t going to put any pressure on myself to win the golf tournament because I had so much heartache, so many losses. … I was just thinking `You know what, I’m tired of worrying about that.'”

Instead of feeling the pressure, Perry exerted it. He withstood an early charge from Waldorf, who birdied his first four holes, then kept firing at pins on the back nine while Couples’ putter failed him.

The Hall of Famer leads the Champions Tour in putting average, but could generate little magic Sunday. He drove the green on the short par-4 seventh only to three-putt for par. Couples later knocked it within 8 feet on the 15th only to send his birdie attempt streaking past the hole. He pulled the comebacker to the left and the bogey gave Perry his opening.

Perry stuffed a pitching wedge within inches on the 16th then hit a 6-iron to within 2 feet on the par-3 17th. He tapped in the birdie to maintain his two-stroke lead then played smartly on the 18th. He left it just short of the green in two and watched as Waldorf and Couples both reached the long par-5. Their long eagle attempts never sniffed the cup, and when Perry rolled in his par putt, he thrust the ball in the air just before the sky opened for one last deluge on the water-logged course.

Fox Chapel took on more than 4 inches of rain during the week, turning what was supposed to be a stiff test into a pitch and putt for long hitters like Couples and Perry. The conditions begged for players to attack the pins. Rather than simply protect par as he did during his near-misses in earlier majors, Perry knew he could go for it.

It paid off with a $405,000 check and one very significant weight off his shoulders.

“I’m hoping the floodgates are going to open,” Perry said. “But I don’t know, anytime you get into contention you get nervous, you get antsy. But today I had a peace about me … if I can kind of draw upon this the next time I get into the heat of things hopefully I’ll finish it off like I did today.”

Couples was hoping to polish off his third major victory on the Champions Tour, but after cruising through the first three rounds he couldn’t match Perry’s shotmaking on the final day. Couples now has four runner-up finishes this season, including each of the last two majors.

“There were a couple shots you always should have back,” Couples said. “The putt on (15) looked so easy and I just hammered it and I kind of flinched at it coming down the hill … it was a little bit of a sour day the way I played after I teed off.”

Perry trailed by as many as eight shots earlier in the tournament before tracking down Couples over the weekend. He drew within two thanks to consecutive 63s in the second and third rounds and kept it going Sunday.

It was sweet vindication for a player who has won more than $31 million during his 31-year career but is better known for those rounds that went all wrong.

Perry led Mark Brooks by a shot at the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla just outside Louisville, about two hours north of his hometown of Franklin, Ky., only to bogey the final hole to fall into a playoff with Mark Brooks. Brooks birdied the first extra hole for the victory.

The agony grew exponentially 13 years later, when he stood on the 17th tee at Augusta National with a two-shot lead. Consecutive bogeys dropped Perry into a three-way tie with Angel Cabrera and Chad Campbell. He failed to get up and down on No. 10, the second playoff hole, and Cabrera made par to capture the green jacket.

Perry had another close call at the Senior PGA Championship in May. He led through three rounds at Bellerive in St. Louis but was dogged by knee pain and overtaken by unheralded Kohki Idoki.

On Sunday, there would be no folding.

Buoyed by a hot putter, Perry teamed with Waldorf to wear down Couples.

Waldorf began the day four strokes behind Couples but wasted little time making up ground. He rattled off four straight birdies to start his round and shot 29 on the front nine. He cooled off after making the turn and finished with a 6-under 64, giving Perry enough room to pull away.

“It’s not surprising, (Perry) is obviously a great player,” Waldorf said. “Winning these majors isn’t easy and he did a great job this week.”

Michael Allen and first-round leader John Huston tied for fourth at 12 under. Colin Montgomerie, playing in his first Champions Tour event, closed with a 65 to tie for ninth.

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Perry wins Senior Players by two over Couples and Waldorf for first major

McIlroy woes continue despite the Irish cheers

(Reuters) – Former world number one Rory McIlroy, looking to find his form before next month’s British Open, struggled to a two-over-par 74 in the first round of the Irish Open at Carton House, County Kildare on Thursday.

McIlroy carded two birdies and four bogeys to lie eight shots adrift of the leader, Swede Oscar Floren, whose flawless round of six-under-par 66 included four birdies and an eagle.

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, now world number two behind Tiger Woods, blamed poor driving for his indifferent round.

He told reporters: “I didn’t really get anything going from the start. It wasn’t the greatest day and there are no aspects of my game that are really strong at the moment.

“I just have to keep trying to shoot some good scores and hopefully it will turn round.”

Former Ryder Cup captain Jose-Maria Olazabal had a better day, shooting a four-under 68 while his successor as skipper, Paul McGinley, came in with a two-under 70.

McIlroy said on Wednesday that he had felt “suffocated” by the affection shown him by thousands of fans at recent Irish Opens but he was still determined to enjoy himself.

He promised there would be none of the club-throwing or club-bending antics which marked his indifferent showing at the U.S. Open two weeks ago.

“It definitely wasn’t the right thing to do,” McIlroy said when asked about his tantrums in his final-round 76. “It doesn’t set a good example.

“Something I’ve felt in a couple of Irish Opens is suffocated, having that burden and pressure and expectation. But the last couple of years I’ve tried to embrace the whole week, enjoy it and turn all that support into an advantage,” he told reporters at a press conference.

The twice major champion’s form has dipped alarmingly in 2013.

In the last five months of 2012 he won four tournaments and rose to the top of the rankings but after changing his club manufacturer he has recorded just one top-five finish in 12 events this year.

McIlroy announced in October that he was switching from Titleist to Nike clubs in a reported $200 million deal, a decision criticised by many including six-times major winner Nick Faldo.

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McIlroy woes continue despite the Irish cheers

Peterson and Sheehan lead United Leasing Championship after first day

NEWBURGH, Ind. – Patrick Sheehan and John Peterson fired 6-under 66s Thursday to share the first-round lead at the United Leasing Championship on the Web.com Tour.

Oklahoma State’s Kevin Tway and Australian Adam Crawford are in third place after 5-under 67s at the Victoria National Golf Club.

UNITED LEASING CHAMPIONSHIP

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Nine players are in at 4-under 68, including leading money winner Michael Putnam and Andrew Loupe, who roomed with co-leader Peterson for three years at Louisiana State.

“I drove it great, hit my irons very well and had a lot of short birdie putts,” said Sheehan, who hit 12 of 14 fairways. “You can’t attack this course from the rough. The tee shot is going to be the most important shot every hole this week.”

The Victoria National course ranked as the eighth-toughest on tour last year when it played firm and fast amid a record heat wave in the Evansville area. The course has already been doused by more than six inches of rain this week alone, but it’s still proving quite a test.

“You can’t run a ball up on the greens because the fairways are still so soft,” said Sheehan. “There aren’t a whole lot of greens where the front is open anyway.”

The key to this week – according to almost every player – is driving the ball straight. Thursday’s opening round was played with lift, clean and place conditions in effect.

“You’ve got to hit the ball in the fairway because the rough is so tangled and long,” said Peterson, who also hit a dozen fairways. “You’ve got to put it where you can see it and if you can’t see it in this rough you’re in trouble.”

Tway, who was 6 under through his first 10 holes, echoed the sentiments of the others.

“It’s just survival golf out here, especially when the wind blows,” he said. “Hitting a 2-iron and winding up in the fairway is a lot better than smacking driver and winding up in that rough.”

First-Round Notes:

–Kevin Kisner registered back-to-back eagles on Nos. 9 and 10. Kisner, who started his day with a triple bogey on the first hole, wound up with an even-par 72. He is the third player this year to have consecutive eagles and the second in as many weeks. Michael Putnam had back-to-back eagles in the third round at last week’s Rex Hospital Open.

–Kevin Tway’s 5-under 31 on the front nine matched the lowest 9-hole score on the front nine last year. Lee Williams carded his 31 last year in Round 2.

–Kent Jones (68) and Billy Hurley (69) were the only players to finish without a bogey. Hurley was also perfect off the tee, hitting all 14 fairways.

–Leading money winner Michael continued his outstanding play with a solid, 4-under 68 that put him tied for fifth. Putnam’s only mistake of the day came at the 18th hole, where he made bogey.

“I almost gave it away there at the end,” he said. “As long as you can keep your mistakes to a bogey or a good, hard-working par you can stay in this golf tournament. You’re going to find trouble out there for sure.”

–Fan favorite John Daly stumbled toward the end of his day and finished with a double bogey and two bogeys on his final four holes for a 2-over-par 74.

–Chesson Hadley, winner of last week’s Rex Hospital Open and No. 3 on the money list, rallied with birdies two of his last five holes for a 74.

“It was a little bit of a hangover round,” said Hadley, who has four top-6 finishes in his past five starts. “I just didn’t feel connected at the start. My aim was open the first seven or eight holes and I was hitting some giant hooks or pull draws. Once we got that figured out, it was much better.”

–Indiana grad Steve Wheatcroft posted an even-par 72.

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Peterson and Sheehan lead United Leasing Championship after first day

Park in the major mix at U.S. Women’s Open

(Reuters) – South Korea’s in-form Park Inbee made an ideal start in her pursuit of a third major crown this year as she charged into contention for the U.S. Women’s Open in Southampton, New York in Thursday’s opening round.

Taking advantage of some favorable tee positions, the world number one birdied four of her last nine holes to fire a superb five-under-par 67 at Sebonack Country Club, ending the day a stroke behind her pacesetting compatriot Kim Ha-neul.

Another Korean, Kim In-kyung, was also in early contention for the season’s third major after carding a 68 to finish level with American Lizette Salas and Swedes Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist.

However, Park will have given every other player in the field plenty to think about after surging to the top of the leaderboard in her bid for a sixth victory on the 2013 LPGA Tour, and the fourth major title of her career.

“I played very good today,” the 24-year-old Korean told reporters after mixing six birdies with a lone bogey and totaling only 25 putts. “I hit the ball very good, didn’t miss many fairways or greens.”

Tournament organizers had moved several of the tees up due to concerns over a poor weather forecast for Thursday, and Park took advantage with some aggressive approach play.

“I was able to attack some pins where the USGA (United States Golf Association) was a little generous on us, a lot of tees were moved up,” she said.

“So instead of hitting like five-irons, we were hitting nine-irons, and that made the course much easier.

“I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”

OOZING CONFIDENCE

Having already won this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship, Park is oozing self-belief as she seeks to emulate Babe Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) by clinching three major titles in one season.

“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment … the way I’m playing, the way things have been going, the way I’ve been getting the luck,” said Park.

“I think I am in the zone. I’ve been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”

Park, who at 19 became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Women’s Open with a four-shot victory in the 2008 edition at Interlachen, was a heavy favorite coming into this week following wins in her previous two starts on the LPGA Tour.

“I’ve played very good golf the last two or three months,” the South Korean said. “Everything’s been going the right way. Everything’s going the way I really want it to.”

Park held at least a share of the lead for most of the day until Kim birdied her 17th hole, the par-five eighth, to edge one shot clear.

“This is my first time in U.S. Open, and I didn’t think that I’m going to do it like this,” the 24-year-old Kim said through a translator after piling up six birdies in a bogey-free display.

Kim has triumphed seven times on her home LPGA of Korea Tour where she led the money list in 2011 and 2012.

Paz Echeverria of Chile and Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc opened with 69s at Sebonack while defending champion Choi Na-yeon of South Korea and American world number two Stacy Lewis were among a group of 11 players knotted on 71.

However, several big names struggled in the opening round, third-ranked Norwegian Suzann Pettersen battling to a 76 and American Michelle Wie faring even worse as she labored to an eight-over 80.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Frank Pingue)

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Park in the major mix at U.S. Women’s Open

Golf-Park in the major mix at U.S. Women’s Open

* South Korean opens with a 67 at Sebonack

* Ends first round a stroke off lead (Adds Kim detail and quotes, paras 15-17)

June 27 (Reuters) – South Korea’s in-form Park Inbee made an ideal start in her pursuit of a third major crown this year as she charged into contention for the U.S. Women’s Open in Southampton, New York in Thursday’s opening round.

Taking advantage of some favourable tee positions, the world number one birdied four of her last nine holes to fire a superb five-under-par 67 at Sebonack Country Club, ending the day a stroke behind her pacesetting compatriot Kim Ha-neul.

Another Korean, Kim In-kyung, was also in early contention for the season’s third major after carding a 68 to finish level with American Lizette Salas and Swedes Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist.

However, Park will have given every other player in the field plenty to think about after surging to the top of the leaderboard in her bid for a sixth victory on the 2013 LPGA Tour, and the fourth major title of her career.

“I played very good today,” the 24-year-old Korean told reporters after mixing six birdies with a lone bogey and totaling only 25 putts. “I hit the ball very good, didn’t miss many fairways or greens.”

Tournament organisers had moved several of the tees up due to concerns over a poor weather forecast for Thursday, and Park took advantage with some aggressive approach play.

“I was able to attack some pins where the USGA (United States Golf Association) was a little generous on us, a lot of tees were moved up,” she said.

“So instead of hitting like five-irons, we were hitting nine-irons, and that made the course much easier.

“I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”

OOZING CONFIDENCE

Having already won this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship, Park is oozing self-belief as she seeks to emulate Babe Zaharias (1950), Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) by clinching three major titles in one season.

“I do have a lot of confidence in myself at the moment … the way I’m playing, the way things have been going, the way I’ve been getting the luck,” said Park.

“I think I am in the zone. I’ve been playing my best in my career at the moment. I really just want to enjoy the moment.”

Park, who at 19 became the youngest ever winner of the U.S. Women’s Open with a four-shot victory in the 2008 edition at Interlachen, was a heavy favourite coming into this week following wins in her previous two starts on the LPGA Tour.

“I’ve played very good golf the last two or three months,” the South Korean said. “Everything’s been going the right way. Everything’s going the way I really want it to.”

Park held at least a share of the lead for most of the day until Kim birdied her 17th hole, the par-five eighth, to edge one shot clear.

“This is my first time in U.S. Open, and I didn’t think that I’m going to do it like this,” the 24-year-old Kim said through a translator after piling up six birdies in a bogey-free display.

Kim has triumphed seven times on her home LPGA of Korea Tour where she led the money list in 2011 and 2012.

Paz Echeverria of Chile and Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc opened with 69s at Sebonack while defending champion Choi Na-yeon of South Korea and American world number two Stacy Lewis were among a group of 11 players knotted on 71.

However, several big names struggled in the opening round, third-ranked Norwegian Suzann Pettersen battling to a 76 and American Michelle Wie faring even worse as she laboured to an eight-over 80. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Frank Pingue)

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Golf-Park in the major mix at U.S. Women’s Open

Kim leads US Women’s Open by one over fellow Korean Park after Day 1

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ha-Neul Kim saw friend Inbee Park after the world’s top-ranked player took the lead in the morning session at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Kim, with an afternoon tee time playing the major for the first time, wondered, “Wow, how did she shoot that score?” Then Kim went out Thursday and shot one stroke better, finishing with a bogey-free, 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead at Sebonack.

U.S. WOMEN’S OPEN

PGA Tour leaderboardGolf on TVWhat’s in the winners’ bagsWeek’s worth of equipment tweetsWho’s winning driver derby?Who’s winning putter derby?Photos: Top 10 equipment shotsPhotos: Golf around the worldTwo majors down, three to go for red-hot ParkPark chases history at U.S. Women’s OpenLPGA Championship switches dates and courses in RochesterThursday recap

Park is trying to make history by winning the first three majors of the year. For a day at least, she was upstaged by a much less-heralded fellow South Korean.

“I’m enjoying myself,” Kim said through a translator. “I’m just happy to be here and to be playing in this big event. I’m not really thinking about winning or results but enjoying the moment.”

Currently a member of the KLPGA Tour, Kim is a seven-time winner in South Korea. She kept giving herself short birdie putts Thursday and making them.

Kim birdied her second-to-last hole with daylight waning to claim the lead after Park held it for most of the day with her 67 in the morning session.

No player has won the first three majors in a season with at least four majors. The 2008 U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park has already won five times this year, including her last two tournaments.

American Lizette Salas, Swedes Caroline Hedwall and Anna Nordqvist and South Korea’s I.K. Kim shot 68.

Concerned about bad weather, tournament officials moved up the tees, and with the rain holding off, Park was able to play aggressively.

“I never had practiced from those tees, so I was a little bit shocked when I went to the tees,” Park said.

Not that she was complaining.

She repeatedly set up short putts, and the way she has excelled in her short game lately, Park was headed to a low score.

“So instead of hitting like 5-irons, we were hitting 9-irons, and that was making the course much easier,” she said. “I was actually able to go for some pins and give myself a lot of opportunities today. I made a lot of putts and didn’t leave much out there.”

Starting on No. 10, Park birdied her first hole, then started racking up pars. She made the turn at 2 under before birdies on three of her next four holes.

At 5 under, Park briefly struggled with her tee shots, needing to save par on Nos. 5 and 7. On No. 6, her 15th hole of the day, she had to lay up out of the tall grass and settled for her lone bogey.

Park got back to 5 under on the par-5 eighth with a chip shot to about 5 feet that set up a birdie putt.

Hedwall and I.K. Kim were each at 5 under with a hole left, but closed with bogeys. Nordqvist birdied her last two holes to pull into the tie for third.

The two Swedes grew up playing together.

“Certainly seeing her shooting 4 under in the morning session gave me a little bit of inspiration for the afternoon,” Nordqvist said.

Salas, a 23-year-old former Southern California star, played with Park in the last group of the final round of this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship. Three strokes back starting the day, she opened with a double bogey and tumbled to 25th after shooting a 79.

She bounced back to reach a playoff at the LPGA Lotte Championship in April, losing to Suzann Pettersen for her best finish on tour.

“I’m just getting a lot more used to being in contention and really studying the leaderboard and really managing my patience,” Salas said. “I think that’s been key for me this week. Yes, I still get nervous on the first tee and my hands keep shaking, but I just know that if I just trust myself and trust my instincts, I can perform out here.”

Chile’s Paz Echeverria, a 28-year-old LPGA Tour rookie also making her U.S. Women’s Open debut, and Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc shot 69.

Among eight players at 70 was Natalie Gulbis, who withdrew from a tournament and missed two others earlier this year because of malaria. Infected by a mosquito during the Honda LPGA Thailand in late February, she returned for the Kraft Nabisco in early April. Gulbis hasn’t finished better than 13th since, missing the cut at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.

Defending champion Na Yeon Choi, second-ranked Stacy Lewis and 19-year-old amateur Kyung Kim from USC were among 11 players at 71.

Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old New Zealand amateur who won the Canadian Open last August to become the youngest LPGA Tour winner, had a 72.

Michelle Wie opened her round with a quadruple-bogey 8 on No. 10. She was at 11 over through 14 holes before birdies on three of the last four to finish with an 80.

With Park’s two major titles to start the year, South Koreans have won four straight majors. But Ha-Neul Kim was an unlikely representative to lead after the first round of this tournament.

“I was very nervous coming in, and I thought in the practice round that the course was very difficult,” she said. “Before playing today I thought that even par would be a very good score for me.”

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Kim leads US Women’s Open by one over fellow Korean Park after Day 1

Huston leads Senior Players, with Couples in four-way tie for second

PITTSBURGH — John Huston spent most of the last three months wondering when his balky back would finally let him swing a golf club without making him want to double over in pain.

Turns out, all he really needed was a handful of new stretching exercises and a scorching hot putter.

SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

PGA Tour leaderboardGolf on TVWhat’s in the winners’ bagsWeek’s worth of equipment tweetsWho’s winning driver derby?Who’s winning putter derby?Photos: Top 10 equipment shotsPhotos: Golf around the worldMontgomerie making Champions debut at Senior PlayersThursday recap

Rejuvenated after working with a back specialist whose client list includes Fred Couples, Huston fired a 5-under 65 on Thursday to take the first-round lead in the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel.

“Usually in the past if I had back problems, three or four days I’m back ready to go,” Huston said. “This one’s been a little bit more difficult.”

Huston returned last week to slog to a tie for 32nd in the Encompass Championship near Chicago. He needed a handful of days to recover and admitted he was happy storms shaved the Wednesday pro-am to a nine-hole event.

A good night’s sleep and a tee time pushed back a handful of hours due to a steady downpour early Thursday morning proved to be just the elixir he needed.

Huston started on No. 10 and was even par halfway through his round before making a big move on the front nine. He shot 5-under 30 coming in, including four birdies and an eagle on the short par-4 seventh.

“I really didn’t make anything and then all of a sudden the last 10 holes I made a bunch of putts,” Huston said. “I think that kind of turned the round around.”

And Huston is better than most at hitting the gas pedal when things are going his way.

The seven-time PGA Tour winner set a tour record at the time when he captured the Hawaiian Open in 1998 at 28 under par. He wasn’t quite as hot Thursday, but with the soft greens begging players to be aggressive he didn’t hesitate to aim for the cup.

“I feel like whenever you do have the momentum, I think you’ve got to take advantage of it because it can turn around and go the other way just as fast,” Huston said. “The more birdies you get on Thursday and Friday, the bigger cushion you have on the last couple of days.”

Couples, Duffy Waldorf, Fred Funk and Russ Cochran were a stroke back in the third major on the Champions Tour schedule. Tom Pernice Jr. had three straight birdies to start his round and led a group of five players at 67.

The start of play was delayed nearly five hours because of heavy rain. When the sky cleared, portions of the 6,696-yard course remained under water. Officials sent players off both the first and 10th tees, invoked the lift, clean and place rule and moved the tees up on a handful of holes to speed things along.

Even the little nudge forward didn’t always help. Tee shots plugged into fairways and approach shots went nowhere, helping bunching the field. Over half of the 81-player field finished at even or better, creating little separation.

Still, Huston found some breathing room. He got his round going with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th, kickstarting a stretch where he made five birdies in a span of seven holes, including a 40-footer on No. 6. He capped the run by driving the green at the 295-yard par-4 seventh and sinking the 25-footer for eagle to vault him into the lead.

Even better, when he walked off the ninth hole at the end of an eventful day, he did it with little pain.

“I didn’t get tired, my back didn’t get tired at the end,” he said. “Hopefully it’s moving in the right direction.”

Couples, searching for his first victory of the season, put together three birdies on the back nine, including one on the 18th that pulled him within a shot of the lead. The Hall of Famer finished fourth on the course a year ago, faltering on the weekend to finish four shots behind winner Joe Daley.

He was joined by Waldorf, who is making a habit of getting in position early. He has led after the first round in three of his previous four events and is finally getting comfortable in his first full season year on the tour for players 50 and over.

“I’ve been putting better, getting those birdies in early and that takes a lot of pressure off,” Waldorf said. “I’m getting off to a good start and that’s made the difference.”

Points leader David Frost, who edged Couples by a shot at the Regions Tradition three weeks ago in Alabama to capture the first major of his 32-year career, bounced around all day before joining a large group at 68.

Newly minted Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie began his Champions Tour career with a steady 1-under 69. The 31-time winner on the European Tour started a little shaky, flying his approach shot on the 10th hole over the green. He scrambled for par and missed just one more green the rest of the day.

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Huston leads Senior Players, with Couples in four-way tie for second

Castro grabs two-shot lead at Congressional

(Reuters) – American Roberto Castro coped best with tough, U.S. Open-like conditions at Congressional Country Club as he moved into a two-shot lead after Thursday’s opening round of the AT&T National in Bethesda, Maryland.

Seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour, the flame-haired Castro limited the damage always lurking on a course flanked by thick rough and reeled off three consecutive birdies in his last five holes to take control with a five-under-par 66.

Fellow Americans Billy Horschel and Bud Cauley, and Canadian Graham DeLaet, returned 68s while Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, the highest-ranked player in the field, struggled on the greens on the way to a 73.

“The rough’s brutal,” Castro told reporters after surging to the top of the leaderboard with a total of six birdies and one bogey. “We probably were 50 percent you’d get it up to the green and 50 percent pitching out.

“It’s very similar in that there are not a lot of birdies out there,” the 28-year-old said, referring to the U.S. Open feel at Congressional. “You’re just plugging along.”

Castro, whose best PGA Tour finish was a seventh placing at last year’s Greenbrier Classic, totaled only 23 putts on Thursday but had to scramble on several holes to salvage par.

Horschel, who 11 days ago recorded his best-ever finish at a major with a tie for fourth in the U.S. Open at brutally difficult Merion, felt conditions were almost as tricky at Congressional on Thursday.

“It’s like another U.S. Open,” Horschel said after mixing four birdies with a bogey. “Off the fairways, the rough is thick. It’s tough to hit the ball on the green.

“Fortunately, the greens are soft so they’re really receptive. But it’s still a tough golf course. You’ve got to drive the ball really well here to give yourself opportunities.

“The tougher the golf course, the better I play,” added Horschel, who has posted seven top-10s in 16 starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, including a maiden victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April.

American world number eight Brandt Snedeker and compatriot Jim Furyk, a 16-times winner on the U.S. circuit, were among a group of eight players who opened with 69s.

Former Masters champions Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Fijian Vijay Singh, and emerging Australian talent Jason Day, started out with matching 70s.

Two notable absentees from Congressional this week are defending champion Tiger Woods, whose foundation benefits from this event, and U.S. Open winner Justin Rose.

World number one Woods pulled out on the advice of his doctors to rest a left elbow strain while third-ranked Englishman Rose opted out due to fatigue since he clinched his first major victory at the Merion U.S. Open.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Castro grabs two-shot lead at Congressional

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