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Okinawa's Miyazato a Daikin Orchid favorite

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2007-03-02

Japanese golf sensation Ai Miyazato is coming home from the United States to play in the 20th Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament.

Miyazato, a Higashi Village, Okinawa native, won the Daikin Orchid in 2004 with a 10-under-par 72 to win more than ¥10,800,000. She was the youngest ever to win the tournament, and is coming back this weekend carrying Japanese superstar status. Miyazato is coming off a third place tie in the Fields Open last month in Kapolei, Hawaii, where she finished 11 under par.

The 2007 Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament kicks off tomorrow at Ryukyu Golf Club in Tamagusuku. The event is attracting more than 90 golfers for the 54-hole stroke play tournament. The bulk of the participants are drawn from the Japan Ladies Golf Association members, with amateurs rounding out the field. The top 50 competitors move to Sunday’s final round.

Mikiyo Nishizuka scored the 2006 Daikin Orchid title with an eight-under-par 208, defeating Shiho Oyama, Lu Ya-huei of Taiwan and Sakura Yokomine. She fired five birdies against a pair of bogeys to win the trophy.

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 20th Daikin Orchid event, with ¥14,400,000 going to the winner. There are also special prizes being awarded, including a room air conditioner by Daikin, a Daikin domestic washing machine and Flash Streamer Hikari Crial, a Yanma fishing boat from Yanma Diesel Ltd., a special orchid picture pattern toudou tray from R$yukyuhoso, and a specially designed Ryukyu glass piece from Okinawa’s Prefectural Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima.

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 21-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. She will stay in her home prefecture only briefly after the Daikin Orchid before heading back to the U.S. for her second LPGA season. Miyazato finished 22nd on the tour last year with $532,053 in 21 events.

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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