Ai Miyazato bounced back from a bogey on the long par-3 17th hole at Pinnacle Country Club with a great up-and-down walkoff birdie to post a 65 and get to -12 at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, then signed autographs in the shade while Mika Miyazato's 10-foot birdie putt to force a playoff with her just slid by the hole. And just like that, Ai-sama had earned her 2nd LPGA win of 2012 and 9th career victory on tour.
There were lots of great rounds in the 100-degree Sunday heat, but just about all of them had some flaw that opened the door for Ai-sama. 1st- and 2nd-round leader Veronica Felibert had trouble on and around the greens after getting to -12 for the week with a birdie on the par-4 8th, leading to 4 bogeys in her final 10 holes. She finished in a tie at -10 with Inbee Park, who bogeyed 2 holes in a row early on the back but failed to birdie either of the par 5s down the stretch. Azahara Munoz shot a bogey-free 65 of her own to get to -11 and force Ai Miyazato to birdie the last hole to avoid a playoff with her, but she, too, didn't birdie either home-stretch par 5. That was a particularly painful shortcoming, given that she hit a perfect drive on 18 and had a hybrid in her hand to hit the green in 2. Her playing partner, Hee Kyung Seo, who had 2 eagle chances to win the previous week in Waterloo, made one today to get to -9, but an early double on the par-4 4th had made her comeback attempt nearly impossible to achieve. Even Amy Yang's 65 included a bogey on a par 3 and only 1 birdie out of 4 par-5 attempts. And Mika Miyazato had gotten to -12 with 6 holes to play, but couldn't make a birdie the rest of the way (including on the par-5 14th and 18th) and took a tough bogey on the par-4 16th.
All in all, it was a welcome turnaround for Ai Miyazato, who had uncharacteristic trouble on the greens at Grey Silo the week before and missed the cut by several strokes. The past several events, her approach shots hadn't been quite as precise as they usually are and she said last Friday that she was working on her takeaway, timing, and tempo. I asked her that day, right after she had finished her 2nd-straight round where she was struggling to break 75, what her mindset is when she's not playing like a world-class golfer, and she told me, "It's just, 'Be patient.' It really definitely happens sometimes in your life. I have this experience so many times. So I know sometimes it's not going well and sometimes it's going really well." Well, not many players can go from the former to the latter from one week to the next. But clearly Ai-sama is one of those kinds of golfers. It's a huge lift coming into the U.S. Women's Open, and even though I'm sad for Mikan, I'm really happy for my favorite golfer!