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Top-ranked Park two shots behind Matthew and Stanford at LPGA Classic

07/11/2013 02:03 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT
WATERLOO, Ont. - Top-ranked Inbee Park took a well-earned break last week after winning her third major of the season.

She was refreshed for her first round at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic on Thursday and quickly picked up where she left off.

Park opened with an impressive 6-under-par 65 under mostly sunny skies at Grey Silo Golf Course. The South Korean was two shots behind American Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew of Scotland.

Park is looking to become the first golfer to win four straight LPGA Tour events since Lorena Ochoa in 2008.

"Golf is a sport where you could miss the cut this week and you could win next week," Park said. "There's a lot of imbalance in this game and to keep this kind of level going for four weeks, five weeks, six in a row is a very tough thing to do. We really have to be strong mentally, you have to be physically strong.

"Everything's got to work perfect to win that many tournaments in a row I think. You could win six, seven tournaments a year, but I think it's really tough to do in a streak, like in a row."

It took a tremendous round from Matthew to leapfrog Park on the leaderboard. The veteran Scot carded a career-best 18-hole score of 63 to top her previous best of 64, which she carded on four separate occasions.

Matthew had five birdies en route to a blistering 31 on the front nine and had just a single bogey on No. 12. She didn't miss a fairway and hit all but three greens in regulation.

"I hit it close all day which gives you a lot of chances and then obviously I putted well," she said. "I gave myself a lot of chances but took advantage of them."

Stanford joined her in top spot when she closed her round in the early evening with three straight birdies.

"Today I hit it really good," she said. "So it was just one of those days that as a golfer you just love."

Park was joined by American Irene Cho, Spain's Belen Mozo and South Korea's Hee Young Park and Meena Lee at 65. American Ryann O'Toole and South Koreans Chella Choi, Jenny Shin, Amy Yang and Ji Young Oh were three shots off the lead at 66.

Hamilton's Alena Sharp — one of 10 Canadians in the field — shot a 68. Defending champion Brittany Lang of the U.S. and Charlottetown's Lorie Kane opened with scores of 69.

Players took advantage of soft conditions early in the day on the 6,330-yard course. Aggressive approach shots were rewarded before the greens started to dry up in the afternoon.

"We were pretty much able to attack the pins this morning," Park said. "The next three days might be a little bit different if we don't get any more rain, might play a little harder."

Warm temperatures and sunny skies are in the forecast through the final round of the US$1.3-million tournament on Sunday.

The 24-year-old Park oozed confidence as she strolled down the fairways. She seemed very business-like and appeared to be in complete control of her game.

Dressed in a white shirt and teal pants, Park raises the club with an oh-so-slow backswing before launching the ball with remarkable consistency. When she found her first bunker of the day in front of the 18th green, she casually blasted out to within a few feet of the hole and made the birdie putt.

"I think it was an excellent round," she said. "I had a really good start this morning, five under through (eight) holes. I missed a couple opportunities on the back nine, but I'm pleased with the way I played today.

"I hit the ball great, I putted great."

It was Park's best first-round score since she opened with a 7-under-par 65 at last year's Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. She went on to finish second at that event.

Nancy Lopez holds the tour record with five consecutive victories in 1978, a mark equalled by Annika Sorenstam over the 2004-05 seasons. Park, who enters the tournament as the tour leader in seven statistical categories, has already won six times this season.

She's dominating the tour the way players like Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa did over the last decade.

"At the time when I was watching them, I thought they were so good, that I would never be in that kind of position, never be able to win like four, five tournaments in a row," Park said. "I thought that was toughest thing to do and I'm getting really close to that.

"I'm not as good as them yet, but I'm still learning now and just starting."

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