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Golf: New Big Three “exciting not only for us, but also for the fans”

Park In-bee (far right), Lydia Ko (second right) and Stacy Lewis are the 'Big Three' of women's golf. Photos: HSBC Getty Images.

Park In-bee (far right), Lydia Ko (second right) and Stacy Lewis are the new ‘Big Three’. Photos: HSBC Getty Images.

March 9, 2015: Stacy Lewis told SportAsia in December 2013 that the ‘Big Three’ of women’s golf – Park In-bee, Suzann Pettersen and Lewis herself – should become the ‘Big Four’ following the rapid emergence of Lydia Ko, then 16.

 

Now, women’s golf has again resorted to a ‘Big Three’, with Ko replacing Pettersen, who’s winless on the LPGA Tour since October 2013 and now grouped with Feng Shanshan and Michelle Wie at the top of a chasing pack left behind by the leading trio’s remarkable consistency.

 

The new-look ‘Big Three’ came into sharp focus on Sunday, when Ko, Park and Lewis – World Nos. 1, 2 and 3 respectively – played together in the final flight of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.

 

Park, 26, lifted the trophy at Sentosa Golf Club after a bogey-free, wire-to-wire win described by Ko as “pretty phenomenal”, while the teenager and Lewis, 30, finished two and four shots behind respectively.

 

“It was fun out there,” Lewis said. “It was fun being in the final group. That’s where you want to be.”

 

Now World No. 3, Stacy Lewis is also keen to regain the No. 1 ranking she held for 21 weeks last year.

Now World No. 3, Stacy Lewis is also keen to regain the No. 1 ranking the American held for 21 weeks last year.

Park and Lewis have won 13 and 11 LPGA titles respectively, capturing 12 and nine of them within the last three years. In the last two years, the Korean has topped the Rolex Rankings for 73 weeks, while the American has been No. 1 for 25 weeks.

 

Ko, the new kid on the fairways, has been the only other No. 1 in that time and has now topped the table for six weeks since leapfrogging Park on February 2 to become golf’s youngest-ever No. 1. The 17-year-old believes Sunday’s all-star grouping captured a trio of players who are pushing each other to new heights.

 

“I think it was a great pairing. I don’t think it can get any better than that. It’s great that we are all going for it, trying to become the winner at the end of the day. I think all of us tried to make birdies and push each other out there,” Ko said.

 

Lydia Ko is relishing the ongoing rivalry between her, Park In-bee and Stacy Lewis. Photos: HSBC Getty Images.

World No. 1 Lydia Ko, 17, is relishing the ongoing rivalry between her, Park In-bee and Stacy Lewis.

“I remember last year at the Fubon LPGA Championship, it also came down to In-bee, Stacy and me,” she added, referring to the Taiwan event last November when Park, Lewis and Ko finished one, two and three respectively as per their world ranking.

 

Ko believes the competitive nature of all three players never spills over into aggression and that the rivalry could benefit all involved, including spectators and television viewers.

 

“It’s always fun playing with In-bee and Stacy,” said the Korea-born New Zealander, who has won all six of her LPGA titles within the last three years.

 

“They are such consistent players and I always play well when I play alongside them, so it’s great. I don’t know when we’ll be paired up next, but I think it will always be exciting, not only for us but also for the fans.”

 

The world’s top three playing together in the final flight helped attract over 14,000 fans on Sunday.

The world’s top three playing together in the final flight helped attract over 14,000 fans on Sunday.

Park agrees that playing with Lewis and Ko is a challenge in itself, but one that generally has a positive effect on their performances. However, she admits that she wouldn’t play with her two biggest rivals if she had the choice.

 

“I think it definitely gives me a little bit more confidence playing with Lydia and Stacy at the same time. It’s like a dream pairing,” Park said.

 

“We get this a lot in the first and second rounds, but it’s tough to actually have that in the final round. It’s not the pairing I really look forward to playing in the final round because it’s very difficult and probably the toughest pairing that I have all year, so winning from that situation gives me a little bit more motivation.

 

“They’re probably going to be a couple of girls that I’m going to see all year, so it’s good to know their games. They are great players and we always really give each other motivation.”

 

Park In-bee is keen to regain her No. 1 ranking from “somebody who can’t even drink.”

Park In-bee is keen to regain her No. 1 ranking from “somebody who can’t even drink.”

Park admitted that she’s keen to regain the top ranking she has owned for most of the past two years and thinks that holding off an in-form Ko in Singapore has given her a psychological edge in their ongoing battle.

 

“I think so, because I didn’t play so many times with Lydia, especially in the final round. I thought she doesn’t make any mistakes, but I definitely saw her making a couple of mistakes and thought, actually she’s human,” Park said.

 

“Everybody’s human, so that gives me a little bit more motivation to play for No. 1. However, this is only early in the year and we have so many tournaments to come. I’ll probably play a lot more with Lydia. I just can’t believe I’m playing with somebody who can’t even drink!”

 

Park says that for all there is at stake, from titles to majors to rankings, there’s little ill will between the three. She, for one, said she would rather beat her competition with good play and never wish for a rival to make a mistake.

 

“We don’t really expect them to make mistakes, so we just try to play better than them,” Park said. “You want to play one better than her or put your shot in a better spot. You can’t really wish for somebody else to make mistakes. I think you’ve just got to play well to win.”

 

However, for all the emphasis on the No. 1 ranking, Park herself did admit that she’d still rather capture the one traditional major she hasn’t yet won – the Women’s British Open – than regain the top spot.

 

“I think I definitely want to do the British Open win,” said Park, who has won the newly named ANA Inspiration (2013), LPGA Championship (2013, 2014) and US Women’s Open (2008, 2013), with the Evian Championship in France only assigned as a major in 2013.

 

“I mean, if No. 1 comes before, that doesn’t matter, but if I have to choose one between the two, it’s definitely the grand slam.”

 

Interviews: HSBC Women’s Champions (www.hsbcgolf.com/womens)

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