(Evian-les-Bains, France – Sunday 26th July 2009) – Japan’s Ai Miyazato won the Evian Masters with a birdie at the first hole of a sudden death playoff against Sweden’s Sophie Gustafson at Evian Masters Golf Club in France on Sunday.
After hitting her second shot into the bunker on the 477-yard par five 18th hole in the playoff, she rolled in a three foot birdie putt to claim her first LPGA/Ladies European Tour victory.
The 24-year-old from Okinawa became the second Japanese winner of the Evian Masters 12 years after Hiromi Kobayashi won the event in a playoff in 1997.
“I feel very happy at the moment. I was dreaming about this when I was young, so my dream has almost come true. I feel great,” said Miyazato, who earned a first prize of US$487,500, (€341,249.80).
“I didn’t watch the score board until the end of the final round. I was just trying to make birdies and I tried to control myself.”
Miyazato recorded rounds of 69, 66, 70 and 69 for a four round total of 14-under-par 274. She sank a 10 foot birdie putt on the 18th in regulation play to reach that score, before Gustafson tapped in for birdie to join her.
“I made a great birdie on the No. 2, and I feel really like confidence after that. So, I mean, I was really play good because I hit fairways, keep hitting the fairways, and I hit the greens. But I had so many good birdie chance too, but I couldn’t make it. That makes me really pressure on myself. But I’m just trying to make me like really calm and stay in the present. That really worked,” she said, through an interpreter.
When Miyazato turned professional in 2003, the 5’2” pint sized player was expected to take the world by storm, having already won the Miyagi TV Dunlop Ladies Golf Tournament as an amateur. Having sealed the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf in South Africa in 2005 with Rui Kitada, she won the LPGA’s qualifying tournament for 2006 by a record 12 strokes however it took almost four years to earn her first LPGA victory, in her first ever playoff.
She explained via translation: “When I had a good success in Japan I was still very young. I was just going for it, not scared of anything. When I came to the States, I had to adjust to many things, like the culture, the language. Those things obviously played a huge part. I don’t think the length of time that it took me to win was that important. I just feel that the four years that took me was very valuable.”
Gustafson, a winner of 22 events worldwide, carded a final round of 70. After her third shot to the green on the playoff hole landed 10 feet from the pin it sat in its own pitch mark, making it a tough birdie putt.
“I didn’t have the putter going today. I missed four putts from within four feet and that’s the difference from the past two days. Right now I’m very disappointed,” said the 35-year-old, who now lives in Florida. “Right now I’m not focusing on anything. I need to let this week sink in and I’ll go from there.”
South Korean Meena Lee shot the best round of the week, a seven-under 65 that took her into a tie for third with Cristie Kerr of the United States on 13-under. The 2008 champion Helen Alfredsson of Sweden shot 70 and shared fifth on 11-under with the 2006 event winner Australian Karrie Webb and the 2005 victor Paula Creamer from the USA. Meanwhile Japan’s Yuko Mitsuka shared eighth with South Koreans In-Kyung Kim and Na Yeon Choi.
Welsh star Becky Brewerton, who held a share of the lead for the first three rounds, carded 76 and slipped back into a share of 13th place on eight-under, but the previous week’s Open de Espana champion was taking the positives from the experience.
“It was a different situation. I couldn’t hit a fairway and its hard work when you’re in the rough so much,” she said. “The week as a whole, I finished eight-under. That was my best score here by quite a long way and even today when things weren’t going well it could have been a lot worse.
“I kept my head and made some nice putts, especially on the front nine, to keep in it a little bit. It could easily have been different.”
Brewerton and the rest of the field will head to Royal Lytham and St. Annes in England for a completely different sort of test at next week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, which is the final major championship of the season.
South Korean Jiyai Shin will defend the title against a quality field and the championship will be the final event where U.S. and European players can earn Solheim Cup points.