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Ai Miyazato Daikin Orchid favorite

By: By Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2010-03-04

Okinawan pro-golfer Ai Miyazato is coming home to play in the 23rd Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament, and the only way to describe her is ‘sizzling hot’.

Miyazato, a Higashi Village native, won the Daikin Orchid in 2004 with a 10-under-par 72 to win more than ¥10,800,000, the youngest ever to win the tournament. Six years later she’s coming back this weekend carrying Japanese superstar status, and she’s on a roll. Miyazato is truly red hot, setting a new record as the first Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour player in 44 years to sweep the first two events of the season. Last weekend she did it in Singapore, firing a 3-under-par-69 for a two stroke win over Cristie Kerr in the HSBC Champions Tournament. A week before, the 24-year-old hometown girl won the LPGA Thailand with pars on the final two holes to close at 10 under.

The 2010 Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament kicks off tomorrow at Ryukyu Golf Club in Tamagusuku, attracting 108 golfers--90 LPGA pros and 18 by sponsors’ recommendations-- for the 54-hole stroke play tournament. It’s a star-studded list, including Shin Ji-Yai of Korea, the U.S. LPGA money leader and Rookie of the Year. Also teeing off at the Daikin Orchid will be Japan’s money queen, Sakura Yokomine, and Shinobu Moromizato of Okinawa.

Two more Okinawans, Jayoi Arasaki and Ayako Uehara, will participate, along with seven top level mainland Japanese players including Yuko Mitsuzuka, last year’s Daikin Orchid winner. The others are Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, Momoko Ueda, Rikako Morita, Asako Fujimoto, and Makoto Takemura. Four other Koreans will be on hand, including Song Bo-Bae, the 2008 Daikin Orchid Tournament iwnner, Lim Eun-A, Wei Yun-Jye and Jeon Mi-Jeong. Song, who hit the professional scene at the same time as Miyazato in 2004, won the 2008 event by four strokes.

Mitsuka shot an even-par 72 to win her third career titles at last year’s Daikin Orchid. Ayako Uehara finished in a tie for second with Erina Hara. Sakura Yokomine, along with 2008 champion Song Bo-Bae of South KIorea, wound up in a five-player tie for fourth.

The Daikin Orchid is sponsored by Daikin Industry Ltd., and Ryukyuhoso Ltd. Today’s action at the host Ryukyu Golf Club is a Pro-Am Tournament. More than 230 golfers are expected to participate, nearly a dozen of whom are amateurs.

A total of ¥80,000,000 is on the line in the 23rd Daikin Orchid event, with more than ¥14 million going to the winner. There are also special prizes being awarded.
TBS is broadcasting the three-day event live across Japan.

Miyazato, who in her 2004 rookie season in the Japan Ladies PGA Tour won five tournaments, won the Japan Open Championship in 2005, becoming the youngest player on the JLPGA Tour to win a major. In that tournament she attracted a gallery following of more than 32,000.

The 24-year-old Miyazato is now playing professionally on the U.S. Ladies PGA Tour, closing her rookie season in America with seven top-10 finishes including a third-place tie in the LPGA Championship. When not in Okinawa, Miyazato calls Orange County, California her home. Her 2007 goals are to win one of the LPGA titles and to finish within the top 10 on the money list.

A popular feature of the Daikin Orchid is the primarily volunteer staff. More than 300 ladies each year donate their services to make the event a success.

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