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Pak Wins 1st LPGA Event Of Year

Forget ginger, tea and bed rest. Nothing could have made Se Ri Pak feel better than the way she blitzed the field Sunday in the LPGA season opener.

Looking like the rookie who took the tour by storm three years ago, Pak overcame severe cold symptoms to birdie seven of the last 11 holes and beat Penny Hammel and Carin Koch by four strokes in the YourLife Vitamins LPGA Classic.

Pak shot an 8-under-par 64, her best round since last March, and earned her first victory since 1999, when she was thought to be the next great threat in women's golf.

"Actually, no more sick," the South Korean said about the cold that left her hacking um, make that coughing her way around the sunsplashed Grand Cypress Resort.

Pak finished the tournament at 13-under 203, not even within shouting distance of Hammel (68), Koch (70) or fourth-place finisher Lorie Kane (69), who finished six strokes behind.

Any talk of the junior jinx that left Pak winless in 2000 should come to an immediate halt.

"She was very driven, very focused," said Tom Creavy, the coach Pak hired late last year after going several months with nobody to look at her game. "She knows how good she is and she just wants to take it to the next level. She thinks she can be there every week."

Those who felt Pak might have lost it last year may not have known she devoted the entire second half of last season to winning in 2001. She hired Creavy, prepared to bring on a new caddie, Colin Cann, and adjusted practically her entire game.

"Last year, many things happened," she said. "Everything was totally changing. Find a coach, find a caddie, change my swing. But I knew I was trying to get ready for this year. It looks like everything is set for 2001 - mental, swing, coach, caddie. Everything."

Showing the same style that helped her win the LPGA Championship and U.S. Open in her rookie year, Pak opened the day behind by two and won running away.

On No. 9, she chipped in from 30 feet out on the apron to move to 8-under, one stroke behind Hammel.

"That made me very happy going to the back nine," Pak said.

She took the lead with a sweet chip from 20 feet for birdie on No. 14, arching her back and giving a little leg kick as the ball curved into the hole from the edge of the fringe.

On No. 15, she answered Hammel's 20-foot birdie putt with an 8-footer of her own to maintain the lead.

She birdied No. 16 while Hammel bogeyed, and the last two holes were more or less a victory parade.

The whol time she said she struggled to keep herself from sneezing and coughing, not wanting to interrupt her playing partners. Turns out, she was a distraction because of her play, not her sickness.

"I tried playing my game and tried to stay in it the best I could," said Koch, who played with Laura Davies in the final group. "But Se Ri was making all kinds of things. We saw it and heard it in front of us. It wasn't any fun at all."

Koch, the hero in Europe's victory at the Solheim Cup last year, will have to wait for her first LPGA victory. She missed a makable birdie putt on No. 9 that would have given her sole possession of the lead, and never regained steam.

Hammel remained winless since 1997, but said she was pleased with a good showing to start the season.

"I just kept trying to give myself opportunities," Hammel said. "I figured if something worked, great. If not, oh well. Se Ri played very good today."

Two-time defending Player of the Year, Karrie Webb, was never a factor in this tournament. The Aussie star "lost her swing" sometime Saturday and never quite found it in the final round, shooting a 1-over 73 to finish at 219.

Could Pak be the player to push her way toward the top this year?

After one tournament, it sure seems like it.

"I know last year was a little bit of a struggle all year," Pak said. "I felt sometimes I had a chance to win, but a little mistake would make me drop out. But even though it was hard, somehow, that gives me a lot of experience with my golf game."

Divots: Pak's 64 tied the tournament record at the Grand Cypress course, the site of three LPGA events.

  • Kim Williams, who broke her collarbone and injured her knee in a car crash outside the resort Friday, said she expects to be out until at least April.
  • Davies, the leader after Friday's first round, shot 80 to finish at 2-over 218, 15 strokes off the lead.
  • Pak earned $150,000 for her victory in this, the first of a record 19 LPGA events with $1 million purses.

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