SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Inbee Park's putter was failing her from short distances in Friday's second round of the U.S. Women's Open. But players thinking they would benefit from Park's misfortune went away disappointed.
Park, long considered one of the LPGA's best with a flat stick, made up for the short misfires by making three putts of 20-plus feet for birdie, then punctuated her performance with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th green amid heavy fog.
Park completed her 4-under-par 68 just minutes after USGA officials suspended play because of the fog spilling over Sebonack Golf Club. Park had begun the 18th hole when the horn sounded, so she was allowed to complete the hole, and her round.
Play was suspended at 6:40 p.m. EDT and will resume on Saturday at 7 a.m. Third-round play is tentatively scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. with groups of three starting from the first and 10th tees. The final grouping is scheduled to start at 12:40 p.m.
"I think I could have shot 65 today if my putter was really going," said Park, who is seeking to win her third straight major of the season. "But 4-under, I think, is good enough for this golf course."
The 68, which included six birdies – three in her final six holes – moved Park to 9-under-par 135 as she assumed a two-stroke clubhouse lead over fellow Korean I.K. Kim and a five-stroke lead over Lizette Salas. Jodi Ewart Shadoff of England was also at 4-under for the championship through 15 holes of her second round.
Angela Stanford, who joined Park with the day's low round of 68, is tied for fifth at 3-under-par 141, along with 20-year-old Jessica Korda, who shot a 1-under-par 71.
First-round leader Ha-Neul Kim shot a 5-over 77 and is tied for ninth at 1-under-par 143. The cut is currently projected to be 6-over-par 150, which would leave two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Juli Inkster, 53, who is making her record 34th championship appearance; Suzann Pettersen, the world’s No. 3-ranked player; Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie among the notables not making the weekend.
Park, 24, the 2008 U.S. Women's Open champion, could have distanced herself from the field if she had been able to reduce her total of 28 putts for the round. She needed just 25 in Thursday’s opening-round 67.
"I think I just had to be away from the hole," joked Park of her short-putt woes. "Everything that was close from the hole was not going in, and then everything that was farther away from the hole was going in today. It was weird."
Equally odd was the day's weather, which began as cool and overcast, warmed up and then gave way to the creeping fog.
"Kind of like four different seasons in one day," Park said. "You kind of expect it with the ocean here. I think it is tough to play in the fog because you can't see your target. I think that was the toughest thing. The wind, I think it was always going to come into factor this week. Especially in the weekend it will definitely come into play, so now is good practice."
Park said the fog began wreaking havoc on the 401-yard, par-4 16th. By the 545-yard, par-5 18th, she could not see beyond 150 yards. Lining up her final birdie putt was not an issue.
“I really wanted to finish today and get a good rest and be fresh for tomorrow,” Park said.
With a morning tee time in the day's best conditions, Kim posted a 3-under 69 to take the second-round lead until Park's inward nine stretch of birdies.
"Typically I like afternoon tee times, but I was able to get up early and it didn't look very nice this morning, but it turned out to be a much better day," said Kim, who had a restless night thanks to overnight thunderstorms, combined with an early wakeup call.
Kim, who defeated Park, 5 and 4, to win the 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior at BanBury Golf Course in Eagle, Idaho, has four top-10 finishes, including a pair of third-place ties, in seven previous U.S. Women's Open starts. She is hopeful this week will turn out differently.
"Definitely finishing top five in the U.S. Open is not a bad place," she said. "But there were times that I was disappointed. But I just have faith, if you do your best then everything is going to be OK."
As the fog crept over the Jack Nicklaus-Tom Doak design throughout the day, the field began to see just how difficult this course could play. Though the course was set up at 6,594 yards, only 46 yards more than on Thursday, a combination of heavier winds, quicker greens and some neatly tucked hole locations tested the field.
"I think yesterday was probably the easiest day that the USGA and the golf course is going to give us," Stanford said. "It's probably just going to get tougher."
When play was suspended, Sebonack was playing to a field stroke average of 76.59, more than a stroke higher than the opening round. Difficulty was also reflected on approach shots as the field hit just 56.4 percent of the greens in regulation, down 5 percent from Thursday.
"You had to take your medicine here and there," said Korda, who is making her sixth straight U.S. Women's Open start. "There were some birdie opportunities definitely. If you took advantage of those, you could come out with a pretty good score."
Clearly Park did, once she straightened out her balky putter.
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA championship websites.