Japan’s Ai Miyazato claimed her first LPGA title on Sunday when she defeated Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson at the first extra hole of a sudden death play-off in the Evian Masters.
Miyazato, who won 12 titles on the Japanese LPGA tour and became a superstar in her homeland before heading to the US full time in 2006, carded a final round 69 to set the target of 14-under 274. Moments later, Gustafson birdied the long 18th for a 70 to force the play-off.
In sudden death, it was Miyazato who secured the US$487,500 prize — the joint highest in women’s golf. Playing the 18th, Gustafson missed her 10 foot birdie putt and Miyazato slotted hers home from just three feet.
“I have dreamed about this day since I was very young and now it’s come true,” the delighted 24-year-old Miyazato said. “I’m so happy and feel great. There was a lot of pressure today, because I had a chance to win. It’s great to have done it. I have been through tough times the past couple of years, but my caddie [Englishman Mick Seaborn] stood by me the whole time and we grew together as a team. Today is a mixture of relief and accomplishment.”
Miyazato was delighted to follow in the footsteps of Hiromi Kobayashi (1997) and become the second Japanese winner of the Evian.
“Every time I walked up the stairs to the locker room, her picture and scorecard caught my eyes,” the new champion said. “I always wanted to achieve what she achieved. I respect her a lot and I feel very proud to join her as an Evian winner. I was very young when I won the titles in Japan and it took a while to adjust to America, but I really appreciate all the support I get from back home.”
Miyazato, who had three-putted the 18th for bogey on Saturday, began the final round one shot off the lead, but she made an early move with a birdie at the second. She did drop a shot at the sixth, but made a significant move with three birdies in four holes from the eighth. Having dropped into a tie for the lead with a dropped shot at the 15th, she made an easy birdie at the 18th to set the clubhouse target.
On a day of low scoring, South Korea’s Lee Meena surged through the field with a tournament-best 65. The former Canadian Open champion had nine birdies to set an early mark of 13-under. She had to wait more than hour before being overtaken by Miyazato and Gustafson, but she did hold on to third place in a tie with Cristie Kerr of the US.
Three former winners — Helen Alfredsson (70), Karrie Webb (71) and Paula Creamer (70) — all shared fifth place on 11-under. Wales’ Becky Brewerton, the leader after the first round, slipped back with a 76 and had to settle for a share of 13th on eight-under, while Mexico’s world No.1 Lorena Ochoa closed with a disappointing 73 and finished on two-under in share of 40th place.
Taiwan’s women all had a disappointing tournament. Teresa Lu closed with a 70 to finish one-over in a share of 52nd place. Candie Kung shot a 76 to finish three-over tied for 61st place, while world No. 2 Yani Tseng shot a 72 to finish tied for 64th place on five-over.
ADDITONAL REPORTING BY STAFF WRITER
AFP, MALMO, SWEDEN
Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez won the Swedish Masters by two shots on Sunday, capturing his first European Tour title for five years.
Gonzalez birdied five of his last six holes to snatch victory after carding a final round 69 to finish 10-under for the week, two ahead of Welshman Jamie Donaldson.