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Evian Masters gives Miyazato 1st LPGA title

Date Posted: 2009-07-30

Cool under pressure, Okinawa’s Ai Miyazato breezed through a sudden-death playoff Sunday, sinking a birdie putt to capture her first ever victory on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour.

The 24-year-old from Higashi Village on Okinawa’s northern coast upended Sophie Gustafson of Sweden to win the Evian Masters in France, shooting a 3-under 69 on her final round while Gustafson had a 70. Both finished with 14-under totals of 274, as both shot birdies on the 18th hole to force the playoff. Gustafson had an opportunity to claim the title on the 18th hole, but her eagle putt drifted right on the edge of the hole.

On the extra hole, Miyazato was steady, sinking her six-foot put moments after Gustafson missed her birdie putt from the edge of the green. “I had a tough time these last few years,” Miyazato said, talking about the long three years since she became focused on the LPGA after being a household name in Japan. “It is obviously a relief, but I feel a sense of accomplishment at achieving this great win. I have so many things going through my head at the moment.”

The 24-year-old Miyazato was the first Japanese woman to win at Evian since 1997, when Hiromi Kobayashi won the title, also on a sudden-death playoff hole. Miyazato has always been a Kobayashi fan, and told reporters after her win that “Every time I walk up the stairs to the locker room I tend to see her scorecard When I saw it, I wanted to achieve what she achieved. I wanted to be a champion. I respect her a lot and feel very proud as another Japanese player to have done the same.”

Miyazato’s LPGA Evian win was worth $487,500, the joint-highest first prize in women’s golf, alongside the Women’s U.S. Open. She clenched her fist as the last putt rolled in, then stood paused for several moments, her hand on her brow, savoring her first even LPGA win. Miyazato has won 12 Japanese LPGA tour titles before turning her sights to American three years ago.

“When I had good success in Japan I was still very young,” Miyazato reflects, “but when I came to the States I had to adjust to many things, the culture, the language.” Okinawa’s hometown girl said she didn’t “think the length of time it took me to win was that important. It was very valuable.” She gave a lot of credit to her caddie, Englishman Mick Seaborn, who “stood by me the whole time, and we grew as a team. It is a mixture of relief and accomplishment.”

Banners are hanging from the front of the Higashi Village Village Hall, congratulating Miyazato. Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, has joined residents in sending congratulations. Her parents, who’ve been waiting in Tokyo throughout the tournament, have said they’re deepl impressed. Miyazato ventured into Sunday’s final round one shot off the lead, but a birdie on the second hole put her in contention. A string of birdies kept her in the race, matching shots with Gustafson. On the front nine, south Korea’s Lee Meena fired nine birdies to set a 13-under-par mark, only to be overtaken by Miyazato and Gustafson.

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