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Ai Miyazato soars to top spot in women's golf

Date Posted: 2010-06-24

Only days after refocusing herself on her game, Ai Miyazato swept past the competition to win the ShopRite Classic and claim the number one position in the Rolex / Ladies Professional Golf Association rankings.

She achieved her goal with a 7-under-64 at the $1.5 million ShopRite Classic in Galloway Township, New Jersey, Sunday, two strokes ahead of her nearest competitor, M.J. Hur of South Korea. Miyazato’s victory was her fourth this season, The others came in Thailand, Singapore and Mexico. Her first LPGA win came in last year’s Evian Masters in France.

“When I started playing in the States, that’s when I really started thinking about being No. 1,” Okinawa’s hometown girl from Higashi Village said. “That became a dream of mine, especially watching Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa play. Now that I’m No. 1, I still can’t believe it, but I do feel very comfortable with it,” she smiles. Miyazato’s victory on the Seaview Bay Course near Atlantic City was easier than the scores reflect. South Korea’s 20-year-old Hur had to birdie the final three holes to just hang on to second place, while Miyazato poked in a 10-foot birdie herself on 17.

“I said to myself, I need one more good swing, one more good putt,” Miyazato, who turned 25 last Saturday, said. “So it was a good self-talk and I was really able to stay in control of myself out there. She had a 54-hole total of 17-under-197, and built upon it. “I believe in myself and the game and no matter what the situation is, or the pressure is, I feel I can play my game.” She had seven birdies and no bogeys on the final 18 holes at the ShopRite Classic. It was her first win on American soil.

She admits to having been distracted in recent weeks by thoughts about becoming number one, seeking to unseat South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, who took the top spot after Ochoa retired May 3rd. Miyazato says she discussed the problem with Mike Seaborn, her caddie. “We had a really good talk about the world rank, and what I needed to do to focus right now,” she says. “So that’s why I got so clear about this week and started again focusing in my swing and every single shot.”

She can’t rest on her laurels, though. The LPGA Championship presented by Wegman’s at Daytona Beach, Florida this week will have a half-dozen competitors nipping at her heels. She was one of the six golfers that could have jumped into the top spot, and most of the others will be at the LPGA Championship. Points are awarded based on the field strength and evaluate a player's performance over a rolling two-year period weighted in favor of the current year with even more importance placed on the most recent 13 weeks.

Miyazato has been in the spotlight from the beginning of her professional career. Turning pro in 2003, she won 11 JLPGA events over the next two seasons, then proceeded to demolish the field by a record 12 shots in the 2005 LPGA Qualifying Tournament. She recorded 16 top-10 finishes and earned nearly $2 million over the next three seasons but didn't break through as a Rolex First-Time Winner until last year's Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale, where she defeated Sophie Gustafson in a one-hole, sudden-death playoff.

Then, this season, the flood gates opened. Her back-to-back wins at the first two events of the season was a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1966.

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