Saiki captures first title at Rochester

DETERMINED: Kim Saiki ended a 14-season drought by winning the USLPGA event in New York, while Taiwan's Tseng Ya-ni defeated Michelle Wie for her first triumph

AFP AND REUTERS , PITTSFORD, NEW YORK; WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA AND LONDON

Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 19

American Kim Saiki ended a 14-season victory drought on Sunday, firing a one-under par 71 to capture the LPGA Rochester tournament for her first tour triumph.

Saiki won in her 287th career start, finishing at 14-under par 274, to defeat compatriot Rosie Jones and South Korea's Mi Hyun-kim by four shots. Saiki's 72-hole total was the lowest at this event in a decade.

"It's incredible," Saiki said. "No words could describe it."

Saiki, 37, had four previous LPGA second-place finishes, but the most recent of those was six years ago. Saiki had not cracked the top 20 in 12 prior starts this season.

"I've always believed in myself. I wouldn't be out here if I didn't think that I could win," Saiki said. "In the past when I finished second I just got outplayed. I didn't play poorly."

The top prize of US$225,000 is more than Saiki made in any of her first 11 seasons on tour, lifting her from 77th on the LPGA money list into the top 15 with US$280,000 this season.

"It hasn't really sunken it yet," Saiki said. "I think tomorrow I'll feel it and be a little more emotional about it."

Saiki began the final round a stroke ahead of Jones and opened with a birdie, but a double bogey at the second opened the door and Jones had a one-stroke lead when the final two-some reached the turn.

"After the birdie on the first hole the adrenalin was unbelievable and I got up to the second hole and I just hit a drive straight right and really had no play," Saiki said.

"But after I doubled that hole I was still very calm because I knew there was a lot of golf left. It wasn't one of the wisest decisions that I've ever made to hit driver on that hole."

Jones bogeyed the 11th hole and double-bogeyed the 14th on her way to a 74 and her second runner-up showing in her past four starts.

Saiki birdied the 12th but went into a bunker on 13 on the way to a bogey. She followed that with a seven-foot birdie at the 14th and two-putted from 20 feet for a birdie at the 17th.

Saiki had given out resumes to start a teaching career next year.

"I think I'm going to have to rethink my career path," she said. "I would definitely love to defend this title."

Kim was second here two years ago, having blown the lead in the final round. But she made a late run at the leaders before finishing with six pars.

"My goal was top three, so when I look at the scoreboard I get top two and I was just happy," Kim said.

This was the final tuneup event for next week's US Women's Open in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

"My parents told me if you want to marry you have to win US Open, so I have to win the US Open," Kim said. "I'm trying to do my best."

Tseng beats Wie

Taiwan's Tseng Ya-ni defeated defending champion Michelle Wie 1-up after 36 holes on Sunday in the final of the 28th US Women's Amateur Public Links Championship.

Wie, the 14-year-old American golf sensation who barely missed the cut at a PGA event in January, lost her crown but could win another next week at the US Women's Open in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Seventh-seeded Wie received a bye into the third women's major championship of the year from the US Golf Association, much to the chagrin of some rival LPGA players.

Fifth seed Tseng, 15, became the second woman from her homeland to capture the crown. Candie Kung, the 2001 women's public links champion, now plays on the LPGA Tour.

Tseng had three other close calls on her way to the title, winning her semifinal 1 up and her third round match after 22 holes.

British Open qualifying starts

Half of Europe's triumphant 2002 Ryder Cup team tackled the rigors of trying to qualify for next month's British Open over 36 holes at Sunningdale Golf Club in England yesterday.

Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Swedes Jesper Parnevik, Pierre Fulke and Niclas Fasth and Irishman Paul McGinley are among 120 players competing for a minimum of 15 spots in the European leg of international qualifying.

Britain's Montgomerie, a talismanic figure for the victorious Europeans in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry in central England, is trying to avoid missing his first British Open since 1989.

"I want to qualify because I know I have a good chance in the actual tournament," the 41-year-old Scot said on Sunday after tying for 48th in the French Open at Le National.

"Thirty-six holes in a day isn't a problem. But that's just one way of qualifying, there are other ways and means."

Montgomerie and company could also book an Open spot by being one of two qualifiers from a `mini order of merit,' which has run since the TPC of Europe in late May and finishes at next week's European Open in Ireland.

Places are also available to the leading player, not otherwise exempt, at the European Open and also at the Scottish Open, being played at Loch Lomond from July 8 to July 11.

Others in the Sunningdale qualifying hunt are 1999 European Ryder Cup captain Mark James, twice US Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, former world No. 1 Ian Woosnam, big-hitting Argentina Angel Cabrera and Britain's Justin Rose.

The 36-hole qualifying tournament is one of five taking place around the world between January and June.

The first three were held in South Africa, Australia and Malaysia, with four players qualifying from each.

The final two qualifiers were being played yesterday, at Sunningdale, south west of London, and at Congressional Country Club, Maryland in the US.

Former US Open champions Lee Janzen, Corey Pavin and Steve Elkington of Australia are in the 120-strong field bidding for a minimum of 15 British Open spots at Congressional.

International qualifying tournaments have been introduced by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club to make it more convenient and less expensive for overseas-based players to qualify for the third of the year's four majors.