Defending champion Park says new Manulife course presents challenges

CAMBRIDGE, Ont. — Defending champion Inbee Park said a challenging new course will level the playing field at this year’s Manulife LPGA Classic.

Whistle Bear Golf Club hosts the 2015 tournament, and Park said the course’s 6,613-yard, links-style layout appears more challenging than Grey Silo. Park won last year’s tournament at the Waterloo, Ont., course with a dominant final round.

Add in the potential for wind to play havoc with shots, and Park expects a wide-open tournament in Cambridge.

“Maybe a new golf course can put everyone at the same starting line,” said Park, who sits second in the LPGA’s Rolex World Rankings.

“It’s not exactly that you play well because you know the golf course well. You never play that good on your home course all the time, so I think it’s just your body condition and your game strategy. I don’t know how it’s going to play out but I think it’s a great looking golf course.”

Park said being the defending champion gives her extra motivation as the field of 150 golfers tees off on Thursday.

“I think it’s always fun to play as the defending champion at the golf course or the venue you’ve had success on,” said Park, adding that she’s enjoying the perk of having the parking spot closest to the putting green.

“I love to play in this event. I have a lot of good finishes in Canada and I’m looking to play good in Canada again.”

The South Korean is playing well this season with two wins and six top-10 finishes, so she’s among the favourites to win in Cambridge. But she doesn’t expect to duplicate the 10-under 61 she shot in the final round at Grey Silo last year to come from behind and beat Cristie Kerr.

“I think it has a little bit more thinking to this golf course and a little bit more challenge then the last one obviously,” she said.

“The golf course is playing a little bit longer with a little bit wet conditions. The greens are undulated and you really have to know the golf course.”

Park, who will try to defend her Women’s Players Championship title nest week, said she is happy with her start to the season and wants to keep the momentum up with some big golf tournaments packed so close together.

“Everyone wants to have a good start on the season and we have a lot of big, major tournaments this year coming up really soon … it’s good to have some confidence going into the majors. I feel like my game is in pretty good shape. I’m going to try and work as hard as I can to get ready for next week.”

Someone looking to stop that momentum is top-ranked Lydia Ko.

Opting out of the last two tournaments on the LPGA circuit, the 18-year-old New Zealander used to down time to basically get away from the game. She said she did some practising, but used the break to do some school assignments and work on “fixing her golfer’s tan”.

“I actually visited the U.S. Open course and the KPMG course, and then just my days in Orlando I did a little bit of everything,” Ko said. “You can always polish up even the good things, it can always be better,” Ko said.

A well-rested Ko should be a factor this week, as she’s already put together two wins, two runner-up performances, five top-10 finishes and US$931,542 in earnings so far in her sophomore season on the LPGA Tour.

Bill Doucet, The Canadian Press

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