South Korean Park takes wire-to-wire LPGA Kia Classic win

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South Korea's Park In-bee captured her 21st career LPGA victory on Sunday by winning the Kia Classic at Carlsbad, California

LPGA Hall of Famer Park In-bee of South Korea fired a two-under par 70 on Sunday to win the Kia Classic by five strokes for her 21st career LPGA title.

Park, a seven-time major winner and the 2016 Olympic champion, finished on 14-under 274 after 72 holes at Aviara, north of San Diego.

In her first event of the season, Park shocked herself and onlookers with an overpowering performance.

"It was a great week," Park said. "It was my first week back in three months or so. I played so good. I couldn't believe how well I was doing out there.

"I came here to prepare for next week and I exceeded (my expectations) -- so much more."

Americans Lexi Thompson and Amy Olson shared second on 279. South Korean Ko Jin-young, the world number one, was fourth on 280 with South Korea's eighth-ranked Kim Hyo-joo and 10th-ranked Australian Minjee Lee shared fifth on 281.

Park, 32, was a wire-to-wire winner without ties for the first time in her LPGA career after leading by five strokes when the day began.

It was Park's first victory since last year's Women's Australian Open just before the LPGA shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Park moved four shy of matching legend Park Se-ri for the most career LPGA titles by a South Korean with 25.

"It's somebody I always looked up to growing up," Park said. "She's always big in my heart. Trying to follow in her footsteps is a big thing. I'm glad I'm geting close."

World number four Park dominated an event that featured the world's 14 top-ranked players, a final tuneup for the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA's first major tournament of 2021, which starts Thursday at Rancho Mirage, California.

Park birdied the par-4 seventh and ninth holes and added her third in four holes at the par-5 10th. She stumbled with back-to-back bogeys at 12 and 13 but answered with an eagle 2 at the 16th and not even a bogey at the last could deflate her victory.

"I felt some pressure today, especially on the back nine," Park said. "I don't know why. I had quite a bit of cushion. I made a couple of mistakes. The eagle on 16 was a great eagle for me."

Park is currently in position to qualify for the South Korean women's Olympic team and a chance at defending her gold medal in Tokyo.

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