Time to sink or swim at the Kraft Nabisco Championship
Mission Hills’ 18th hole might look placid but it could tell a thousand stories.
Of the ones we know, Karrie Webb’s holed wedge to make the play-off in 2006 springs to mind, as does IK Kim’s missed putt from just a foot away.
Twelve months ago it was a relatively undramatic climax though it would lead on to almost the greatest story ever told.
When Inbee Park closed out her four-shot win here it moved the South Korean into second spot in the world. Come the end of July she arrived in St Andrews answering questions about a possible Grand Slam.
Previously only Babe Zaharias had won three consecutive women’s Majors – in 1950 there were only three Majors. Otherwise Mickey Wright (1961) and Pat Bradley (1986) are the only other women to win three in a season.
What happened here at Mission Hills kicked her season off in some style.
Park slowly dismantled the field after finishing on 15 under, the same score as Annika Sorenstam when she won by eight in 2005.
The day, as a contest, was over after the 1st hole.
Park birdied while Lizette Salas got involved with a tree to make a double bogey, the lead went to six and, one hole later, became seven.
“I’ve seen Inbee do this before,” said the then World No 1 Stacy Lewis.
“When she rolls it, you just can’t beat her. She’s the best putter on tour. The course here is a little softer than normal, so I think that’s to her advantage. She doesn’t hit it as high as some other people, but when she’s rolling it, you are not going to beat her.”
The jump into Poppie’s Pond remains Park’s favourite on-course memory. Since the US Open in June Park has been in a relative barren spell. The relentless questions and winner’s speeches paid their toll and she failed, in the loosest sense, to add to the six wins already in 2013.
To give some sort of idea of what a spectacular second half to last year Suzann Pettersen enjoyed, the Norwegian could have overtaken Park at the top of the world tree in November. In one spell from late August onwards she had three wins (including a Major at the Evian), two thirds and a fifth.
Pettersen has been No 2 behind four different players but has never been top – she missed out at the season finale and again in Australia last month.
“That’s what has kind of driven me through the winter,” Pettersen said. “I was glad I didn’t get to that spot because it’s also given me a little bit more motivation to dig a little bit deeper and grind it a little bit harder.”
Pettersen’s memories of the Kraft are a little different to those of Park. While she has the LPGA and now the Evian to her name the opening Major has always eluded her.
Though this, on paper at least, is the one that might favour her the most. Seven years ago she led by four with four holes to play but then double bogeyed 15 and 16, bogeyed 17 and missed a putt at the last to force a play-off. She matched that second place the following year, and in 2010, and was third last year.
At some point we will see the Norwegian cannonball her way into Poppie’s Pond.