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Tales of the Unexpected

Inbee Park was proceeding in her usual stately way in the third round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship, with nothing happening to disturb the peace of one more sun-soaked day at Sentosa. That is, until it came to the par five 16th where, would you believe, this seven-time major winner hit her wedge into the water and amassed a double-bogey.

Maybe it was as well that there were no fans behind the ropes to see their heroine suffer an unlikely lapse which straightaway saw her being overtaken by Hannah Green and Xiyu Lin. At one fell swoop, these two were 13 under to her 12 under.

When Lin and Inbee, who were playing in the same group, each birdied the last, things closed with Lin up on 14 under par to Green’s and Inbee’s 13 under.

Inbee, as she came off the course, said a positive, “I still have an opportunity to win. That’s what really matters.” The 25-year-old Lin, meantime, who just happens to be a graduate of HSBC’s China Junior programme, was somewhat dazed at finding herself with a new experience on her hands – an outright lead going into a final round. “I’ve worked so hard I probably deserve this,” she said.  Then, when asked how she thought she might react, she added a disarming, “That’s what I want to know too!” Were she to win, that, too would be a first for the player, along with a first for the championship for a Chinese player has yet to come out on top.

Lin’s birdie at the 16th had gone virtually unnoticed as Inbee made her seven and Hee Young Park, with whom Inbee had shared the lead after nine holes, hit twice into the water on her way to a horrendous 9.

Though Lin was aware that Inbee’s shot had cannoned into the water via a sprinkler-head, she had done her best to ignore the goings-on and concentrate on the tricky putt which took her to 13 under. With her mind “in the right place” for putting, she holed it for one birdie before signing off with another.

The 31-year-old Shanshan Feng, the only Chinese player – man or woman – to have won a major, has been “like a big sister” to the player over the week. She kept reminding her not to practice too much in the heat and to stay well hydrated. Yet probably the older player’s greatest input has been to enjoy her young rival’s progress.

In China, during the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions (mean’s event), Shanshan and Xiyu did a press conference for a host of Chinese media at which Shanshan explained why Xiyu’s long hitting made her laugh. “When I started to play,” she explained, “the most important thing was to hit straight. When Xiyu arrived, she was taught to hit hard. At first, I thought she was crazy because she was hitting the ball here, there and everywhere. Then I changed my mind. Xiyu soon became as straight as she was long.

“She wasn’t crazy at all! Her way was the right way.”

That Shanshan plays at the speed of light is definitely something on which Xiyu has picked up. In truth, all the women have been playing at a cracking pace in spite of the heat. The caddies were putting one in mind of dental nurses as they handed over the right tool for the job without going in for too much in the way of discussion. The women themselves are constantly aware of the other players in their group and hurrying to get out of their way, while none of them seem to waste time on histrionics.

For an example of that, Hee Young Park’s reaction to her nine – wait for it – was to give a slightly sheepish smile.

Gaby Lopez did things at speed when she whizzed round in 65 to finish on 12 under, while Lydia Ko signed off in still more of a hurry.

She hit a perfect second to the 18th green which became still more perfect as it shot off into the hole via Green’s ball for the eagle which has her at 10 under par and back in the picture.

What a leaderboard! What a tournament!