By Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Before she can think of four in a row, Inbee Park first has to make up an eight-shot deficit at the Women’s British Open.
Playing in the strongest wind this week, she had a pair of three-putt bogeys in a round of 1-over 73 that left her closer to the cut line than the lead.
Those rugged conditions Friday afternoon were no problem for Na Yeon Choi. She had a 5-under 67 — nearly nine shots lower than the field average for the afternoon — and had a one-shot lead over Miki Saiki of Japan. Saiki set the Old Course record for the Women’s British Open at 6-under 66 in the morning, which featured bursts of showers but very little wind until late in the round.
Conditions were so demanding that when Choi was asked to give details of her six birdies, she couldn’t recall much further back than the 17th hole.
“Five hours out there, this kind of weather, it’s hard to remember,” she said.
It’s a round Park would like to forget, one that will make her quest even more difficult to become the first golfer to win four professional majors in one year.
The wind carried her approach across the Swilcan Burn and through the green on the opening hole, and from about 50 feet away hit a poor chip that only got halfway there and led to a bogey. The 25-year-old South Korean was never under par for her round.
Still even par for the round after a 6-foot birdie on No. 12, she hit her best drive of the day on the toughest driving hole into the wind at No. 13, only for the ball to take one last turn and settle in a divot. Park came up just short of the green, rolled a putt about 10 feet by the cup and missed it for bogey. On the 17th, her shot skirted up left side of the Road Hole Bunker and onto the green, some 50 feet away.
Her first putt was a yard off line and settled 8 feet below the cup, leading to another three-putt bogey.
But it was tough for everyone in the afternoon — except for Choi, who had a score that looked as if she were on the New Course — and Park isn’t ruling herself out.
Neither is anyone else.
“The tough, gritty players can win this,” Stacy Lewis said after a hard-fought 72 left her five shots behind. “Anybody under par is not out of this.”
Choi was at 10-under 134.
Morgan Pressel took another step toward locking up a spot on the Solheim Cup team with a 70 in the morning, leaving her two shots out of the lead. She now can think squarely about the Women’s British Open, and perhaps adding a second major to the Kraft Nabisco Championship she won in 2007 as an 18-year-old.
Nicole Castrale, also making a last-ditch effort to make the Solheim Cup team, shot 34 on the tough back nine for a 70 and was in the group at 7-under 137 that included Jee Young Lee and Suzann Pettersen.
Choi is a former U.S. Women’s Open champion, so she has proved she can handle difficult conditions. What helped was having her entire team with her this week — notably her Irish coach, Robin Symes, and his friend, who is working as a caddie. Her game management coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, also are at St. Andrews.
She had to handle the blustery wind by herself.
“I had a daily goal, so I just tried to stick with the goal,” Choi said. “It could be like par is 74 or 75 today. But I didn’t care — par 3, par 4, par 5, doesn’t matter to me. I just try to play one shot at a time, and I think that’s why I had great results.”
Even as the second round was finishing, it was clear this was a special round.
From the late side of the draw, only one other player to break 70 was Hee Young Park, who had a 69. There already were four rounds in the 80s.
Birdies were mainly available on the outward nine, and it was all about hanging on from the 12th through the 17th holes. Choi hit a 3-hybrid off the tee on the 16th and a 3-wood into the green, and she hit driver and 3-wood to finish just short of the 17th green in two. From about 45 yards, she putted the ball to 3 feet for a tough par.
Park spoke about having nerves before she teed off Thursday. She conceded after the second round she felt the pressure of this historic chance when she first arrived at St. Andrews. She didn’t see it as a burden, but an opportunity, saying that no matter what happens this week, it would teach her to handle any situation the rest of her career.
“When you experience something big like this, some kind of big pressure like this, you’re just really not afraid of any kind of pressure,” Park said. “How can it get bigger than this? Anything is going to be less than this.”
After making birdie on the 18th, she did an interview with ESPN and then Golf Channel. After that, she stopped for a group of Korean TV reporters who barked out instructions on where she should stand and to the two employees holding microphones. As she spoke to 10 reporters after that, someone asked if she imagined having so much media gathered around her to ask so many questions.
“Well, this is pretty much the only week I’m going to get that much, so I should enjoy this moment,” Park said. “I’m trying to enjoy every moment that I’m here.”
More than the eight shots separating her from the lead were the two dozen players ahead of her, starting with Choi, a close friend and fellow major champion.