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Park rolls to Kraft Nabisco crown

The SportsXchange

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Inbee Park saw nearly five years pass before she won her second major championship, but it was certainly worth the wait.

In the most dominating performance of her young career, Park shot a final-round 69 for a total of 15-under-par 273, defeating fellow South Korean So Yeon Ryu by four shots to win the Kraft Nabisco Championships. With the victory at Mission Hills Country Club's Dinah Shore Tournament Course, Park won $300,000 and moved up to second on the Rolex World Rankings.

"It feels very good," Park said. "It has been a while since I won a major, and this is my second major of my career, and it feels very special."

Park, who won the 2008 U.S. Women's Open at age 19, ran away with the final round Sunday, extending her three-shot lead to seven after two holes.

After Ryu, Sweden's Caroline Hedwall and Norway's Suzann Pettersen tied for third at 279.

Holding a lead in a tournament has not been a strong suit for Park. Coming into the Kraft Nabisco's final round, she was only 1-for-5 after she'd been on top through 54 holes, her lone victory at the 2012 Evian Masters.

Keeping this lead never appeared to be in doubt.

"It made my day much easier, that's for sure," Park said. "I holed a long one on the first hole."

Lizette Salas, who was in second place to begin the final round, wanted to put quick pressure on Park with a couple of early birdies, but her chances were effectively derailed when she double-bogeyed the first hole. Salas shot 77 and finished tied for 25th.

"Obviously I'm not very pleased with it, very disappointed in myself," said Salas, a 23-year-old from Southern California. "It was one of those days where it could have gone from bad to worse, and starting off with a double wasn't in the game plan."

After watching Park stripe her opening drive down the middle of the fairway, a common sight in the final round, Salas hooked her tee shot into the rough and only advanced it about 15 yards. Her third shot reached the front of the green, and her chip was 20 feet from the hole. Two putts later, Salas handed Park a three-shot swing.

Park's only mistake on the front nine was on No. 6, when her tee shot found the water. She hit her third shot to 18 feet and failed to make the par-saving putt.

On the back nine, Park made a bogey on No. 10, and for a moment it opened the door for Ryu, who shot the best round of the day, a 7-under 65.

"I felt so good to have a bogey-free round at a major tournament," Ryu said. "It feels really great, and I'm really proud of myself."

Ryu was able to get to within four shots, but Park made birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 to build the lead back to six. Park bogeyed No. 17, and Ryu made a birdie on the final hole, but by then the identity of the eventual champion was no longer in question.

"I think she was playing a different golf course," Ryu said. "She made it look so easy out there."

Park won four times last year and has continued her dominance this season, winning twice in five events. Park contended in majors as well, finishing in the top 10 nine out of 16 times since her U.S. Women's Open championship.

Among the majors, she previously struggled the most in the Kraft Nabisco, finishing tied for 29th and 26th the past two years. Her best finish at Mission Hills was ninth in 2008, the same year she won the Open.

"It is a very good start," Park said. "It's pressure off of me for the rest of the season. I'm just going to go out there and enjoy the season."

NOTES: Two-time champion Karrie Webb shot an even-par 72 Sunday. Webb, who won the event in 2000 and 2006, finished tied for fifth at 282. ... Salas had a substantial cheering section and was definitely a crowd favorite. Her mother and father made the 100-mile drive from Azusa, Calif., and were joined by other family and friends, including USC women's golf coach Andrea Gaston ... Park became the third South Korean and second consecutive to win the season's first major. Sun Young Yoo won last year, and Grace Park won in 2004.
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