Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G Final-Round Notes and Interviews

Ai Miyazato

Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G
Pinnacle Country Club
Rogers, Arkansas
July 1, 2012
Final-Round Notes and Interviews

Ai Miyazato -12, Rolex Rankings No. 6
Azahara Munoz -11, Rolex Rankings No. 18
Mika Miyazato -11, Rolex Rankings No. 22
Veronica Felibert -10, Rolex Rankings No. 723
Stacy Lewis -4, Rolex Rankings No. 2

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.

 

Bittersweet victory: 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.”

 

So close again: 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.”

 

Viva La Spain… 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.”

 

Nerves of Steel… 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.”

 

Ending on a good note… 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.”

 

Golden ticket winners: 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.

 

Ai Miyazato, Rolex Rankings No. 6

MODERATOR:  Hello, everyone.  We would like to welcome the 2012 Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship presented by P&G winner, Ai Miyazato, into the interview room. 

Congratulations, a fabulous round by you out there today --

AI MIYAZATO:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  -- to capture your second win of the season out here.  Take me through the day and what was going through your mind out there while you were playing.

AI MIYAZATO:  Well, 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.  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.

MODERATOR:  Take me through 18, which ended up being such a critical hole for you.  Did you think birdie was a must, and kind of what was your approach going to 18?

AI MIYAZATO:  I thought if I can make birdie in the last, then I think it's going to be playoff because I watched the scoreboard and Inbee and Mika was 11-under after 17, so if they made an eagle, then I think it's fair enough because I, you know, I didn't feel anything, but I felt like I definitely need a birdie on the last hole.

MODERATOR:  And I know you and Mika are close friends.

AI MIYAZATO:  Yes.

MODERATOR:  What was it like watching the two of you be up there throughout the tournament and have it come down to the two of you at the very end?

AI MIYAZATO:  It's fun, you know?  We from same town, which is Okinawa, and like really small island, so we know each other long time, like over 10 years.  So it was great fun to watch her game, too.  She was just kept making birdies on the front nine, so I was like wow, she's on the way, she's on a roll.  So I tried to catch up with her until the end, but, you know, it's kind of complicated, too.  I feel great, but then she played really good, too.  So honestly I'm really happy about her, but, you know, right now it's like a little --

MODERATOR:  Bittersweet almost.

AI MIYAZATO:  Yes, it is.

MODERATOR:  I was going to say I saw her come and give you a hug after everything was over and you two kind of shared a moment that was special.

AI MIYAZATO:  Yeah.  She said, I'm very happy for you, but then at the same time she was crying.  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 she's winning is coming definitely soon.  You know, I was very happy with her.

MODERATOR:  I was going to say, she's finished top 3, I think, in her last three events out here so you can see where her came is coming along. 

AI MIYAZATO:  Yeah.

MODERATOR:  It's always tough to break through on that first victory, but it looks like she's getting closer every week.

AI MIYAZATO:  Definitely, maybe next week, you never know.  I had kind of a tough time when I jumped on this Tour.  I think I took a time, like almost four years, to get a first win at the Evian.  So I understand what situation's in her right now, but just need patient, I think, and definitely her winning is coming soon.  But hopefully we can play in the last group again.

Q.  Ai, did you have a feel early in the round -- were you watching the leaderboard and did you have a feel for maybe you could get back in and win this tournament?

AI MIYAZATO:  Honestly, no, because like I said, I was five shots behind this morning.  I knew I needed make lots of birdies today, but like I said, I didn't have any expectation and I didn't have any pressure in the front nine, so that's why I think I could focus my game and have four birdies on the front nine.  Then realized I might have a chance, but try not think about that way, you know, just like I did on front nine, just to focus every single shot and I know it's going to be really close, so just to try and -- (interpreter assistance)

Make one more as many as birdie possible.  Sorry, I was copying him.  Make as many, yeah.  So just to try and make a birdies opportunity every single shot.

Q.  How much -- you've won eight times I guess now, nine, millions of dollars on Tour.  How much does that experience, winning, help pay off today?

AI MIYAZATO:  Well, a lot, I think.  Like I said, I wasn't really feel pressure towards the end.  I know I made a bogey on 17, but afterwards I just like in three seconds like I was able to back in myself, you know.  My mental was really calm and I just, you know, that was a bogey, but I need to focus next shot or something like that.  I had really good self talk, too.  So I handled myself really well until the last shot, so I think the last eight winning has definitely helped.

Q.  When you made the bogey at 17, what was going on in your head when you went to 18?  Did you know where you were on the leaderboard, and what was on your mind?

AI MIYAZATO:  Yeah, you know, I think last year I was pretty close to winning, I think I'm one shot behind or something and I made bogey on 17, too.  A few years ago I did the same thing, too.  So it kind of made me flashback that I, you know, that I can't make a par on that hole before the tee shot, so it wasn't really feel good.  But like I said to myself, you know, just one bogey so far during the round, so I think that's pretty good.  I was like, I'll take it.  Then if I made birdie, I thought I still have a chance to get in a playoff.  It was like, I don't know.

Q.  Just what do you think about the tournament moving to late June compared to when it was held in September, and would you rather play in the scorching heat or the rain?  How do you think the tournament held up this week?

AI MIYAZATO:  It doesn't matter really, but you know, it was hot, but then I think it was good weather, too.  We didn't have any thunderstorm this week, so I think, I don't know.  The heat, I'm from a warm place, so I'm kind of used to with this heat, so I didn't feel anything, so I like this season.

Q.  Can you just speak a little bit about the community of Arkansas and coming here each year?  Obviously they turn out in droves.  Just speak a little bit about coming here and what the win means here.

AI MIYAZATO:  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.  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.

 

Mika Miyazato, Rolex Rankings No. 22

Q.  First off, great playing today.

MIKA MIYAZATO:  Thank you very much.

Q.  I know it's a tough finish, but can you just take me through the day and what it was like being up there?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  I played very well front nine, with four birdies so I play aggressive, very patient, so everything good the first nine.  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.

Q.  Talk about that putt on 18.  What did you see?  Obviously it's very close.

MIKA MIYAZATO:  Very close, so on the back nine so many short putt, I tried to hit too hard so that putt, I need to make this putt, I understand, but still difficult, so I try it.

Q.  For it to come down to you and Ai, I know you two are very close.  What was that experience like, and I saw you went and hugged her right after?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  Also ShopRite and Wegmans was good play for me also, I'm a good player this week, so I'm very happy to be here.  I know that Ai played good today, so I just focus one shot one time.

Q.  Everybody was talking about this was Veronica's first chance to get a victory, but it was also your first chance.  What was your thinking when you found yourself in the lead, in contention there late?  What was your thinking about handling the pressure?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  I don't think pressure, I just play enjoy golf today.  So having fun is more important for me.

Q.  If you can't win, is Ai winning about the best result there could be?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  I pretty good today also.  She's very good, so I'm happy to hear, so I'm second place two weeks in a row so maybe more chance maybe next week.

Q.  And we know you and Ai are not related.  How many times do people get you guys mixed up, and do you hear that a lot, are you two related?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  Yes, it is a lot.

Q.  Do you ever think about wearing knee-high socks just so people think you're Ai?

MIKA MIYAZATO:  I wear sometime.

 

Azahara Munoz, Rolex Rankings No. 18

Q.  Great round, 65 today, put yourself right back there up near the top of the leaderboard.  Just give me some initial thoughts on the round and how well you played.

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah, I played really well.  I hit the driver really well and I hit my irons to the green extremely well today.  I made an eagle on 5, so that was really nice.  I gave myself a lot of chances.  My putting was just short of the hole a lot today.  I was maybe a little too tentative.  Other than that, everything was great except for 18.  I hit a great drive and I was between my 5-wood and my hybrid, so I ended up hitting hybrid and I hit it too hard and I pushed it to the right and I didn't get the birdie.  But other than that, I was extremely happy with my round.

Q.  Can you tell us what happened on the eagle on the par 4?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah, I had 90 yards to the pin plus the wind and I just bounced it a few yards behind and it went in the hole.

Q.  You were off the lead at the start.  When you make an eagle like that on a shot like that, do you refocus your goal, like hey, now I can make a run at this?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  I mean, I knew I was really far from the lead, but if you start making a few birdies pretty fast, things really change.  So I made a birdie on 4, which is a pretty tough hole today with the pin all the way back, and a really nice eagle on the next one, and I almost made eagle on 7; I don't know why the ball didn't go in.  You know, after 7 I was 4-under so I knew I was pretty close.

Q.  That makes you think, hey, I can --

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Q.  Makes you refocus, I guess?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah.

Q.  Big day for Spain as well?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah, I was checking the scores on the golf course, it was pretty nice.  I'm ashamed I missed it, but at least it's for a good thing.

Q.  You were on fire, they were on fire, it was good.

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  There you go.

Q.  And just now, I mean, I know there's still a few holes out there.  Do you put yourself in position, sit back and watch?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  I really don't think I have a chance.  Well, 17 is not easy, but 18 is a birdie hole, so I think there are two people tied for 12, right, and I'm 11.  So I really don't think I have a chance, but I'll wait just in case.

Q.  Keeping track of the soccer game or football game, does that help you relax?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Well, I don't know if it helps me, but if I don't know what's going on, then I'll go crazy, so I guess it does help me.

Q.  With how well you've been playing lately, how confident are you going into next week, especially -- 

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Well, this week has been huge because I was kind of making a few swing adjustments and last couple tournaments I missed the cut.  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.

Q.  What do you think about this tournament moving to June or late June?  Usually it's played September in the rain and now it's played in the heat.  How's the switch?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  I guess I like the heat better because you don't have to be sitting down so much, but it is pretty hot.  But, you know, we love coming here, so whenever week come, we'll come.

Q.  Is having a tough tournament like this with all the heat a good preparation for the U.S. Open?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Probably not because we'll be exhausted.

Q.  As far as the mental toughness?

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  It is what it is, you just have to focus on what it is, and I think next week is going to be pretty nice, so yes it is a good test.

Q.  It will make the temperature feel nice in Wisconsin or wherever it is.

AZAHARA MUNOZ:  Yeah, for sure.

 

Veronica Felibert, Rolex Rankings No. 723

Q.  I know it wasn't the result that you were hoping for today, but can you take me through the experience of what it was like and what you've gained from this, having been up there in the lead and playing in that final group?

VERONICA FELIBERT:  Well, it's pretty amazing.  I didn't play the way I wanted but I didn't feel nervous at all, I was surprised.  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.

Q.  The girls that did come back shot low, low rounds and everybody kind of knew you might have to go low today.  Do you take solace in the fact that who came to beat you --

VERONICA FELIBERT:  Actually, I wasn't really thinking about scores or anything, I just tried to do what I have been doing all week, like one shot at a time, just stay in the present and do the best I could.

Q.  Was there a point where you figured you might be in trouble because your swing wasn't there, your game wasn't there?

VERONICA FELIBERT:  I never got worried about that my swing wasn't there.  I think it was there, the shots were not coming the way I wanted, but no --

Q.  Did you come in --

VERONICA FELIBERT:  -- I wasn't concerned about it.

Q.  Did you come in today figuring you needed to shoot a certain score for yourself?

VERONICA FELIBERT:  Well, like 3-under, 3 to 4 I thought was pretty good, like I would have got it.

Q.  Just overall, I mean, only your fifth LPGA start and now all this fan recognition, seems like, afterwards.

VERONICA FELIBERT:  I know, it's pretty cool, I love it.  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.

Q.  And next week, big event.

VERONICA FELIBERT:  Yes.

Q.  How much confidence do you carry in to that?

VERONICA FELIBERT:  I feel pretty good about next week.  It's like this week make a big change for me, so I'm feeling pretty confident, see how it goes.

 

Stacy Lewis, Rolex Rankings No. 2

Q.  The back nine was a little bit of a struggle.  Talk about just being able to make that putt on 18.

STACY LEWIS:  Oh, it's always nice to go out on a positive note and make a birdie.  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.

Q.  Talk about the bunker shot on 11.

STACY LEWIS:  That was pretty much impossible.  That was probably the worst place you could have missed it on 11.  I was just trying to get on the green somewhere.  I hit a good putt and it just lipped out, so just not supposed to hit it there.

Q.  The next few holes, the pin placement's pretty tough.

STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, they were.  12 you could get it pretty close, though.  With a wedge in there, you could make birdie there, so I was disappointed with that.  13 and 14 played tough and just didn't really make any putts coming in.  I hit some pretty decent shots but just didn't make many putts.

Q.  You don't get the support anywhere else that you get here.  Does that change the way you play at all?

STACY LEWIS:  I think it does a little bit.  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.  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.

Q.  How do you feel going into next week?

STACY LEWIS:  I feel pretty good.  I've been working on just trying to work on a few things with the swing this week to get ready for next week.  I feel like we're moving in the right direction, just got to work on a few things the next couple days and we'll be ready to go.

Q.  (inaudible)

STACY LEWIS:  It's the hardest test.  It's more of a mental test than physical.  I've heard the golf course is pretty open, so it's going to be a lot of putting and a mental test and you've just got to grind out some pars and just play steady.

Q.  They've moved this event all over the map.  What about where it is now?  I mean, the heat is obviously a factor, but is this a good time of the year for it?

STACY LEWIS:  I don't know.  I think it's tough with the heat.  I think it affects the crowd so I would almost like to see it later in the year just so we could get some better fans -- not that the fans are bad, but just get some better crowds.  I think we had better crowds last year.  Because of the heat, it's dangerous for people to be out here, so I would like to see it back in September.

Q.  Stacy, talk about your (inaudible) 

STACY LEWIS:  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. So we'll go try to find somebody and take a picture with them and put them on Twitter.

Q.  You've been playing so well.  Are you a little surprised that you've struggled?

STACY LEWIS:  Yeah, a little bit.  I felt really good coming off of last week the way I finished.  I didn't expect to struggle with my irons and my long game as much as I did, so I'm pretty disappointed.  Top 20 finish, you kind of take that any week, but here I would like to finish a little better.

 

Topics: Notes and Interviews, Miyazato, Ai, Miyazato, Mika, Lewis, Stacy, Felibert, Veronica, Munoz, Azahara, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship [+]

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