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Ai Miyazato captured her second victory of the 2012 LPGA season, making birdie on the 18th hole to take home the title at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G. Miyazato fired a 6-under 65 to give her a one-shot victory over fellow Japan native Mika Miyazato and 2012 Sybase Match Play champion Azahara Munoz.
Ai Miyazato started the day five shots back of second-round leader, rookie Veronica Felibert, but tallied four birdies on the front nine to vault herself into contention. Two more birdies on No. 13 and 15 then moved Ai Miyazato into a share of the lead before a bogey on the par-3 17th put her one shot back heading into her final hole. She hit her third shot on 18 to about 4 feet and drained the putt to move to 12-under. Mika Miyazato, who had also been 12-under, bogeyed No. 17 to drop one behind her and then missed a six-foot birdie putt on 18 that would have forced a playoff.
"After the second round, I didn't really expect that I can win this tournament, you know, because I was five shots behind, and I watched Veronica's game yesterday on TV, she made everything, so I was like I have to shoot like really, really low score today," said Ai Miyazato. "Just no expectation before the round, so that helps. I could focus on just every single shot, and I had really controlled myself really well out there, so that's why I think I played really well."
The victory is the ninth of Ai Miyazato's career on the LPGA Tour and she becomes the third player to capture multiple victories this season, joining Yani Tseng (3 wins) and Stacy Lewis (2 wins). With her win in Arkansas, Miyazato will jump from No. 6 in the Rolex Rankings to the No. 3 spot. The only two players that she trails in the rankings are Tseng, who has held the No. 1 spot for the past 73 weeks, and No. 2 Lewis.
While Ai Miyazato was elated to capture her second victory of the season with her win in Arkansas, she admitted that it was a little of a bittersweet moment since it came with her good friend, Mika Miyazato, missing out on the opportunity to become a Rolex First-Time Winner.
After Mika Miyazato missed her putt on No. 18 that would have forced a playoff, she came and gave Ai Miyazato a hug to congratulate her on the victory.
"She said, I'm very happy for you, but then at the same time she was crying," said Ai Miyazato. "So I was like, I didn't know what to say to her, but I just said thank you and great playing. You know, she's still young and she still have a great future and I know her win is coming definitely soon."
Mika Miyazato is still searching for her first career victory on the LPGA Tour, but she seems to be getting closer each week. Her runner-up finish at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G marked her third consecutive top-3 finish. She had previously finished tied for second at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and tied for third at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
While she admitted it was disappointing not to come away with a victory in Arkansas, Mika Miyazato said she continues to learn from each event where she's in contention.
"I played very well front nine, with four birdies so I play aggressive, very patient, so everything good the first nine," said Mika Miyazato. "Back nine is very tough on me, like I made a birdie chance, I can make it, so very disappointing, but another great experience for me."
While Spaniard Azahara Munoz was trying to win her second LPGA title this season, there was something else on her mind on Sunday which was Spain in the Euro 2012 Final.
"Yeah, I was checking the scores on the golf course, it was pretty nice," said Munoz. "I'm ashamed I missed it, but at least it's for a good thing."
While Munoz fell just one-stroke shy of forcing a playoff at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, Spain successfully took home the title. Coming off of two previous missed cuts and battling through swing changes, Munoz's confidence is back high heading into next week's U.S. Women's Open.
"Well, this week has been huge because I was kind of making a few swing adjustments and last couple tournaments I missed the cut," said Munoz. "I was probably working too much on my swing and I shouldn't have, but I want it to be good for the summer and I just needed to make those changes, so this week is going to really help. Coming from missing two cuts is kind of hard."
Prior to this week's Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, Veronica Felibert had never shot a round in the 60's on the LPGA Tour and only made one cut in five starts. To many people's surprise, Felibert crawled her way to the top of the leaderboard during the first round with a 6-under-par 65 and followed it up on Saturday with a 5-under-par 66 to head into Sunday with the lead.
While everyone would understand if Felibert's nerves were racing on Sunday, the former University of Southern California Trojan had nerves of steel during the final round.
"I didn't play the way I wanted but I didn't feel nervous at all, I was surprised," said Felibert. "I thought I was going to be more nervous. But my swing wasn't there and I didn't try to like fight it, I just played with what I got and it wasn't enough. And my putts were all the time short, I just had a hard time getting them to the hole. So not a good day for me, but it was pretty cool and looking forward to do it again."
Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Felibert felt a world of support from the enthusiastic fans in Rogers, Ark.
"It's pretty cool, I love it," said Felibert. "Everybody's like screaming my name. It's so nice here, the crowd, it's unbelievable, and I'm looking forward to coming next year."
Stacy Lewis might not have played up to her expectations this week but the three time LPGA Tour winner has something positive to take away from the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G after her birdie on the closing 475 yard par-5 18th.
"Oh, it's always nice to go out on a positive note and make a birdie," said Lewis. "I struggled all week, I just didn't really get anything going. I'll make a couple birdies and then I'll make a bad swing and make bogeys. It was a rough week for me, I didn't play my best, just trying to work on a few things and get ready for next week."
A former member of the University of Arkansas Women's Golf Team, Lewis always receives a warm welcome when playing this week in front of her fellow Razorbacks. While Lewis has a great deal of fun this week, she also admitted there is a bit of added pressure.
"You try not to, but you kind of start forcing things a little bit and trying to make birdie and trying to hit the perfect golf shot instead of just going out there and playing," said Lewis. "But I love it, I love playing here. It doesn't matter what I shoot and they're cheering for me. I think I tapped in for a bogey and everybody thought I would have made birdie. So it's a special week for me and it's a lot of fun."
Lewis has developed a ritual each week which continued on Sunday where she gives away a pair of sunglass to one lucky fan.
"Yeah, this is something I kind of started doing this year and every week I give away my glasses to one of the fans here," said Lewis. "So we'll go try to find somebody and take a picture with them and put them on Twitter."
Veronica Felibert, Anna Nordqvist and Jenny Shin punched their "Ticket to CME Group Titleholders" at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G, each earning a spot in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders event, which will be held Nov. 15-18, 2012 at The TwinEagles in Naples, Fla. The second annual CME Group Titleholders is a season finale with a field made up of three qualifiers from every LPGA Tour tournament.
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