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Course makes Pak a favorite



Published: Thu, July 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Pak is back at the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic.

Se Ri Pak, who back in 1998 broke on the LPGA Tour with such notoriety that hadn't been seen since Nancy Lopez was a rookie, is playing in her fourth straight Giant Eagle event.

This will be Pak's first tour around Squaw Creek Country Club, but if she's got her game this week, it should be a prosperous one.

Pak just loves to play in Ohio and the statistics prove that. She has won the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic three of the last four years and won the Giant Eagle title in 1998, the same year she was named LPGA Rookie of the Year.

She has never finished worse than seventh in this tournament, but all three of those finishes came at Avalon Lakes Golf Course.

Now she must take on Squaw Creek.

If the conditions remain dry and fast, she should be at her best.

Comparisons: Squaw Creek is a lot like Highland Meadows Golf Course near Toledo, site of the Jamie Farr event, and Pak has just devoured that golf course.

In 1998 she shot a then-LPGA record 61 at the course and won going away.

She came back the next year and won in a six-way playoff and this year captured her third tournament there.

Squaw Creek is very similar to Highland Meadows, in that it is an old layout and one that puts more emphasis on shot making than brute strength.

The greens at both courses are similar in that they are not that large, but are in great condition, fast and extremely difficult to putt on.

When Pak is at her best she is knocking the ball close to the pin and making everything in site. If she does that here then it could be a walk away for the native of Korea.

Top pick: Pak is my first choice to capture the 2001 Giant Eagle LPGA Classic title.

The 24-year-old is obviously the most talented player in this year's field. She has the ability to dominate a tournament and has done it several times among her 11 victories in just 31/2 short seasons.

Pak has won three times this year and has been runner-up twice in 14 events and is third on the money list, just $42,000 short of $1 million in earnings.

Others: Possibly the one golfer who could give Pak a run for the $150,000 first place check here is Laura Diaz, who is also having a good season, although she hasn't won yet.

But Diaz comes in at less than full strength with tendonitis in her elbow and an injured foot that could hamper her game.

The next group of contenders here this week all fall into the veteran category and all have proven very capable of winning here.

Two of those, Betsy King, the LPGA Hall of Famer, and Deb Richard have won on this course before, while two-time Giant Eagle champions Tammie Green and Michelle McGann should be in the running.

King was the last champion to come out of Squaw Creek before the tournament was moved to Avalon Lakes.

She won in 1992 in a four-way playoff, while Richard captured the 1991 crown in a playoff with Jane Geddes.

Se Ri Pak was just a teen-ager when those two won here.

Only one other player in this year's field, Dottie Pepper, is listed among the top-10 money winners on tour this year. Pepper is No. 5.

She also hasn't won this year, but she has nine top-10 finishes and two second places. But she isn't playing her best golf coming into this week and has been bothered by injuries.

Yes, the Pak is back and come Sunday afternoon this tournament could have its third two-time champion.

XPete Mollica covers golf for The Vindicator. Write to him at mollica@vindy.com.




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