Park leads top field in tuneup for women's golf major

Park In-Bee of South Korea, pictured in 2017, returns for her first LPGA event since finishing ninth at the US Women's Open

Top-ranked Park In-bee of South Korea leads the world's top nine players into the LPGA's Northwest Arkansas Championship, final tuneup for next week's Women's PGA Championship.

Park, a seven-time major winner whose most recent major win came at the 2015 Women's British Open, shared 13th last week in the Korea Women's Open and returns for her first LPGA event since finishing ninth at the US Women's Open.

It was only last month that Park won her first Korean LPGA title, capturing the Match Play Championship and silencing so many who wondered how the world number one could be winless on home soil.

"It was a great win," Park said. "Everybody was asking so many questions about why are you not winning in Korea. I really couldn't find a good answer for them over the years. I finally kind of gave them some kind of an answer.

"They don't need to ask me the same question again. That's really the happiest part that I'm really happy about. Winning in front of a lot of fans in Korea was a big thing. It was a big relief."

Park, whose 19 LPGA titles include the 2013 Arkansas crown, will be tested in the 54-hole event that opens Friday by Thailand's second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn, third-ranked American Lexi Thompson and China's fourth-ranked Feng Shanshan as well as South Korea's Ryu So-yeon, the defending champion.

Ryu's victory last year at Pinnacle Country Club, which included a second-round 61, 10-under par, lifted her atop the world rankings for 11 weeks.

Ryu, twice a major champion, had not won again until last week, when she captured the LPGA Meijer Classic by two strokes over Germany's Caroline Masson.

Ariya has been the only woman to win two LPGA events this season, taking last month's Kingsmill Championship ahead of her US Women's Open title three weeks ago.

"There have been a lot of winners this year," Park said. "On the LPGA tour, the competition is always strong and different every week. The players that you compete with every week are different. You don't see the same players every week up on the leaderboard. So I think it's really fun."

Next week's third major of the women's season will be staged at June 28-July 1 at Kemper Lakes in suburban Chicago.