Women's Olympic golf: Park leads; Ko, Piller chasing
August 19, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Brooke Henderson of Canada starts Round 3 in Rio trailing by two strokes. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO – News, notes and a preview of Saturday’s final medal round at the Olympic women’s tournament. Korea’s Inbee Park will take a two-shot lead over world No. 1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand and American Gerina Piller.
THE BATTLE FOR GOLD
Inbee Park has 17 LPGA wins, including seven majors, and has qualified for the LPGA Hall of Fame. She’s a former world No. 1.
Lydia Ko has 14 wins, including two majors. She’s the current No. 1. Oh, and she’s still a teenager.
Gerina Piller, meanwhile, has yet to win on the LPGA Tour in 132 career starts.
The final threesome chasing Olympic gold and a podium finish is quite the interesting mix. While other players -- most notably China’s Shenshen Feng, in solo fourth, one stroke behind Ko and Piller -- could work into the mix for a medal, it’s likely the gold will come down to one of the final three teeing off Saturday at the Olympic golf course.
Park has the advantage, of course, being two shots ahead. It could have been more; Park said she gave away 3-4 strokes with mistakes and poor putting during Friday’s third round. But had she padded her lead, she doesn’t think she gave away the opportunity to seal the gold medal after 54 holes.
“Even if I had a 4- or 5-shot lead, I think it’s hard to guarantee that I’m going to run away,” Park said. “The conditions like today, shooting 3-over par is not that hard.”
After a couple of so-so rounds, Ko finally woke up on the front nine Friday, going out in 6-under 29 – with her first career hole-in-one -- then playing bogey-free golf on the back nine in tough, windy conditions. Her 65 was the low round of the day. Given her status, you had to figure she would make her presence known at some point this week.
Now the 19-year-old has a chance to add another chapter to her legacy if she can chase down Park.
“I think I’ve done a good job of putting myself in there and still have the chance to be standing on that podium,” Ko said. “I didn’t have much momentum with the putter the past two days, so to see some putts go in, I think that kind of boosted the confidence a little bit.”
As for Piller, she should also take plenty of confidence into Saturday after a 3-under 67 that she called one of the best rounds of her career, given the conditions and the enormity of the tournament. The American also called Saturday’s round one of the biggest she’ll have ever played.
While her resume doesn’t compare to her two playing partners, Piller isn’t worried about past accomplishments, only current form. She isn’t afraid to visualize a spot on the top of the podium.
“I’m a firm believer that when you see yourself doing something, and you keep running that through your mind, then you’re more likely to do that,” she said. “ … I do belong here. I feel like I have a chance at this.”
Asked why she thinks she hasn’t yet won on the LPGA Tour, Piller said, “The girls are making more birdies than me. If I knew what that was, I would fix that.
“I just think I’m playing great golf – and golf is one of those sports you can’t really push it. As soon as you push golf, it pushes right back.”
One more good round, and she’ll push her way onto the Olympics podium.
BRING ON THE TOUGH CONDITIONS
Gerina Piller doesn’t mind playing in the wind. After all, she lives in Texas with her husband Martin, who played this week at the Wydnham Championship. She’s used to it.
She certainly wouldn’t mind if the wind produced similar type of difficult scoring conditions Saturday as it did during Friday’s third round when she moved into a share of second with a 3-under 67. Meanwhile, her American teammates – Stacy Lewis and Lexi Thompson – each shot 5-over 76.
“I want it as tough as it possibly can play,” Piller said looking ahead. “Just because I feel like I’m a grinder, and the tougher the better it is for me.
“It kind of allows the cream to rise to the top. I feel like if that’s the case, I have a good shot.”
The forecast calls for winds out of the north early in the day, but switching to strong southwest winds after noon.
NEWEST HOLE-IN-ONE MEMBER
Until Friday, Lydia Ko had never made an ace in her still-young but already legendary career. Oh, during a practice round, she holed one out from the tee – but that was on her fifth stroke of the hole. “A fifth of a hole-in-one,” she calls it. She also recalled a couple of shots at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship that “decided to not go in.”
Said Ko: “I haven’t had the best luck when it comes to hole-in-ones.”
But using a 7-iron at the 142-yard eighth, Ko finally had her breakthrough moment.
“I didn’t know how to react,” Ko said. “… I would have loved to have done a dance or jumped up-and-down. But in that situation, I think I was almost trying to cry.
“Then I realized, ‘Hey, I’ve got 11 more holes, get out of it.’
“It’s really cool. It just put the cherry on top. This week is about having fun and this experience, being an Olympian and competing in the Olympics and to have my first hole-in-one, it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
LATE AMERICAN TEE TIMES
Three Americans were in the field this week. Each one got a turn in the final group.
In Friday’s second round, Lexi Thompson was in the final threesome of the scheduled draw that had been released earlier in the week. She shot a 71.
Stacy Lewis played her way into Saturday’s final group by shooting a second-round 63. Lewis though, struggled to back up that round, shooting a third-round 76.
Gerina Piller now gets his spot in the final group with Inbee Park and Lydia Ko, thanks to her 3-under 68. Tee time is 8:44 a.m. local time off the first tee.