Mika Miyazato made the most of her return to the LPGA Tour’s NW Arkansas Championship, notching birdies at six of 10 holes in the middle of her round to shoot a six-under 65 and earn the lead after Friday’s first round at Pinnacle Country Club.
Miyazato, who was runner-up last year, hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation to finish a shot ahead of Ryu So-yeon and Angela Stanford at five-under. Ten golfers are two shots back at four-under, including local favorite Stacy Lewis.
World No. 1 Inbee Park is four shots off the lead after shooting a two-under 69.
Miyazato, who has struggled for much of this year, nearly won the tournament a year ago. She began the last round in the final pairing before watching as Ai Miyazato sank a five-foot birdie putt in the group ahead of her to take a one-shot lead.
Mika Miyazato then missed her 15-foot birdie attempt on the final hole to finish in a tie for second.
Mika Miyazato went on to win her first LPGA event later last year at the Safeway Classic, but she entered this week 46th on the money list and 77th in scoring average — including 133rd in putting. Still 15th in the world rankings, Miyazato looked comfortable from tee to green on Friday in posting her lowest score of the year.
In addition to hitting 16 greens in regulation, Miyazato made several key putts — including a 10-footer to save par on No. 16. That followed her final birdie of the round, which came after she hit an eight-iron close on the par-three 15th.
Ryu birdied the fifth and seventh holes, gave back a bogey at the par-4 eighth, but began a run of three birdies in a row at the 10th and then closed with a birdie to pull within one of the lead.
“My irons and putting were really great,” Ryu said. “I was a little disappointed with my tee shot, but overall things were great. I made a couple really good up and downs, so I’m really positive now.”
The group at four-under comprises Lewis, Chie Arimura, Danielle Kang, Azahara Munoz, Beatriz Recari, Lisa McCloskey, Mina Harigae, Suzann Pettersen, Christel Boeljon and Sarah Kemp.
Taiwan’s Yani Tseng was tied for 14th after a three-under round of 68, while her compatriot Candie Kung was tied for 37th on one-under.
Another Taiwanese, Amy Hung, was tied for 132nd after a six-over 77.
Additional reporting by staff writer