EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France (AP) — Ai Miyazato clinched her first title of the year at the Evian Masters on Sunday and pledged to share her prize money with the people still suffering in the aftermath of the disasters back home in Japan.
Miyazato shot a 2-under 70 to protect her two-shot lead and hold off a surge from Stacy Lewis of the United States, the Kraft Nabisco winner who missed a golden chance to even the scores on the 16th hole.
The 26-year-old Miyazato will now donate at least part of her $487,500 first prize to the relief efforts in Japan.
“I haven’t decided yet, whether it will be all of the amount or some of it,” she said. “This year I was playing for Japan.”
Miyazato played with consistency throughout the tournament, dropping shots on just five of the 72 holes overall and finishing with a 15-under total of 273. Lewis also shot a 70 to finish two shots back in second, with a trio of players another stroke behind.
“It feels amazing, this is my favorite tournament so I’m really happy that I could win this again,” Miyazato said. “Especially (because) right now, Japan’s having a tough time. So I am just really happy to bring some happiness to Japan.”
Miyazato had not won a title since the Safeway Classic last August, and she now has seven LPGA titles overall. She won her first at Evian in 2009, and added five more last year.
“There was so much happening at the beginning of the season, to be honest,” Miyazato said, referring to the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March. “I always have Japan in my thoughts, it gives me motivation to play.”
Miyazato raised both arms in the air after she sank her winning putt, and several players ran on to the green to soak her with water.
Miyazato joins two-time winners Laura Davies of England and Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, and needs one more Evian win to tie Sweden’s Helen Alfredsson, the inaugural tournament champion and record-holder with three.
“I want to win it as many times as possible,” Miyazato said. “I am looking forward to getting more opportunities.”
Lewis, the Kraft Nabisco winner, kept the pressure on and moved one shot behind Miyazato with a birdie on the 15th.
“We played in the same group yesterday, she played well without mistakes,” Miyazato said. “Even though she was in front of me I knew she would play solid today.”
But, with a birdie chance to level the match on the next hole, Lewis three-putted for a bogey to be two adrift of Miyazato again, her chances slipping away.
“That’s the one shot I wish I could go back and hit again. Just left myself in a really bad spot,” Lewis said. “When I missed that putt, I looked up and saw (Miyazato) had fallen back to 15 under, so I was kind of disappointed with that.”
Lewis had been self-critical after all her previous three rounds, saying she lacked a cutting edge in the last few holes of the day.
“I knew I was in (contention) when I made the putt on 15,” Lewis said. “Just kind of disappointed with 16.”
Lewis’ luck had clearly deserted her when her putt for birdie on the 17th stopped agonizingly short. She could only make par on the 18th, a hole designed for attacking.
Miki Saiki of Japan, Angela Stanford of the United States, and South Korea’s I.K. Kim all finished three shots behind Miyazato.
Kim had moved into contention at 10 under following a brilliant third round of 64, but the South Korean’s bid was undone by three straight bogeys on the front nine Sunday.
Miyazato started with three birdies and no bogeys on the front nine. On the fifth, Miyazato’s drive hit the lip of the green and rolled back, leaving her a 15-yard uphill putt for birdie. She got it close enough to comfortably make par, and then birdied the sixth and had another on the eighth to surge ahead at 16 under. At that point, it looked as if it would be a comfortable victory.
Miyazato then showed signs of nerves on the back nine.
A bogey on the 12th and a birdie from Hong, Miyazato’s playing partner on the day, trimmed her lead to just one shot.
Miyazato bounced right back with a birdie on the next hole, while Hong then bogeyed to drop three behind and give Miyazato some breathing space, which she needed after another bogey on the 14th.
“I was nervous this morning, but I had a really good feeling with my game and I really trusted myself,” Miyazato said. “Even when my lead was down to one I was never in a hurry, I expected that to happen.”