Ai Miyazato defending in comfortable territory
Ai Miyazato has become a household name in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. In five starts at Pinnacle Country Club, Miyazato has recorded five top-10 finishes, including a victory last year, a third and tie for fourth in previous years. In 15 rounds, Miyazato has recorded 13 rounds in the 60s.
“It's always nice to be here. It's always fun to play this tournament because I know there’s so many golf fans over here, so the spectators are always great and all the volunteers always do things for the players and they do a great job,” Miyazato said. “So I think it's just – everything is so organized and perfect and seems like I have a few fans in Arkansas, so I think that makes me more really comfortable to play with. It's just a great tournament, I just love it.”
In between the major championships
The Walmart NW Arkansas Championship has the odd slot on the schedule in between the second and third major championships of the season, the only tournament this season to hold the proverbial sandwich role.
However, the placement hasn’t hindered the tournament as 98 of the top 100 on the LPGA money list and 18 of the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are playing in Arkansas.
Some of that may be due to the purse being $2 million, one of 10 tournaments on the 2013 schedule that award at least $2 million. The Arkansas tournament is the second of three consecutive events offering more than $2 million. The U.S. Women’s Open next week and The Evian Championship in September both offer $3.25 million purses, the richest of the season.
International appeal in Arkansas
An American has never won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. The previous winners have hailed from South Korea (Seon Hwa Lee in 2008 and Jiyai Shin in 2009), Taiwan (Yani Tseng in 2010 and 2011) and Japan (Ai Miyazato in 2012). Only one American has led entering the final round, Michelle Wie in 2010.
Stacy Lewis goes home
Stacy Lewis returns home this week to Arkansas. Actually, Lewis is from Texas but played collegiately at the University of Arkansas. Lewis made her debut at Pinnacle Country Club in 2007 when she was a senior on the Lady Razorbacks’ golf team. She shot a first-round 65 to take the lead, then massive rains came and the tournament became an 18-hole event, with Lewis declared the unofficial winner. In five starts at Pinnacle, Lewis has recorded eight rounds in the 60s and had a best “official” finish of tie for ninth in 2011 when she shot three consecutive 69s.
This week’s tournament site
This week’s tournament site, Pinnacle Country Club, offers a back nine with great variety as the tournament concludes. There are three par 3s on the back nine, including the signature 15th where the tee shot is elevated and shoots down to an island green. The finishing hole is a long, dogleg-left par 5 with water in play on the second shot. Pinnacle will play to par 71 and at 6,372 yards.
Pinnacle was designed in 1989 by Don Sechrest and renovated in 2009 by Randy Heckenkemper.
This week’s event is the 14th of the LPGA season, the halfway point in the 28-event schedule. … Last Thursday, Oakland’s Nate Freiman singled off Mariano Rivera in the 18th inning to beat the Yankees and complete a sweep for the American League East –leading Athletics. After the win, Amanda Blumenherst tweeted, “Ahhh! Nate just ended the 18 inning game. Bases loaded, single! Pie in the face! Athletics win!” … Jiyai Shin hasn’t played in Arkansas since 2010 despite winning in 2009 and finishing T5 in 2010. She is in this year’s field. … Before last year’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, Veronica Felibert of Venezuela had never shot a round in the 60s on the LPGA. She opened with career lows of 66-65 last year to take the lead and finished with a 72 for a T5. Felibert shot a 67 later in the year at the Jamie Farr and has shot 67 and two 69s this year. … Two Australians, Breanna Elliott and Stacey Keating, Monday qualified for this week’s event. Keating shot 70 and won in a playoff. She has played recently in Japan, the United States (a successful 36-hole qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open), Holland, Germany and now back in the U.S. She turns 27 on Friday, the first day of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.