Miyazato still winless in 43 LPGA starts with loss in HSBC event
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Ai Miyazato watched Seon Hwa Lee's birdie putt disappear into the hole, then turned and trudged up the steep hill behind the 15th green.
The hill only took a few big strides to scale. Climbing out of a 2-down hole with three to play against Lee was way too much for the little Japanese star to overcome Sunday in the final of the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship.
Never giving Miyazato a chance to catch up, Lee followed the pivotal birdie on the par-4 15th with another on the par-5 16th, this time for a halve, and ended the 2-and-1 victory with one more birdie on the downhill, par-3 17th.
"I feel really great. I love match play," Lee said.
The 21-year-old Lee, the rookie of the year last year after lapping Miyazato to win the final ShopRite LPGA Classic, knocked off the 12th-seeded Miyazato after beating No. 10 Mi Hyun Kim 2-up in the morning in an all-South Korean semifinal.
After Miyazato cut Lee's lead to one hole with a conceded birdie on the par-4 14th, Lee took the 15th with a 6-foot birdie putt after Miyazato missed an 8-footer.
"That was a very important putt," Miyazato said.
They halved the 16th with birdies -- Lee holed a 7-footer and Miyazato followed from 4 feet -- and Lee ended the match with an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th. Miyazato had about 5 feet left for birdie, but the match ended when Lee's putt tumbled in.
"My putter was really good this week," Lee said.
Lee took an early 2-up lead on the hilly Wykagyl course, countering a bogey loss on No. 2 with par wins on Nos. 1, 3 and 4. After halving the next six holes, Miyazato won the par-4 11th and Lee took the par-4 12th, both with pars.
The 22-year-old Miyazato, a 14-time champion on the Japanese tour, is winless in 43 career starts on the LPGA Tour, a frustrating streak for the biggest female star in Japanese sports history. She was trying to become the 10th Japanese player to win on the LPGA Tour and first since Akiko Fukushima in 1999.
"I didn't feel the pressure," Miyazato said. "She played very well. I honestly think I played very well, too."
Last year in the ShopRite Classic, Miyazato had the lead going into the final round, but closed with a 74 to tie for 13th -- nine strokes behind Lee. The young South Korean player finished with a 63 for a three-stroke victory in the Atlantic City event.
Lee earned $500,000 in the $2 million tournament. Seeded 22nd, she beat No. 43 Diana D'Alessio (1-up), No. 54 Janice Moodie (5 and 4), No. 27 Laura Davies (2 and 1), No. 35 Lindsey Wright (3 and 2) and Kim to reach the final.
In the first round against D'Alessio, Lee was 3-down with four to play, but won the final four holes -- three with birdies -- to advance.
"After that match, I had a lot of confidence," Lee said.
Miyazato earned $300,000 for her best LPGA Tour finish. She beat No. 40 Maria Hjorth 3 and 2 in the morning semifinals.
"Ai's a very good player," Lee said. "I enjoyed playing with her."
In the third-place match, Kim birdied the par-5 18th to beat Hjorth 2-up.
"I woke up in the morning sore in my back," Kim said. "I don't know what happened. ... I didn't play good in the morning. Then after that, after lunchtime, I take some kind of pill and that helping a little bit."
Kim made $200,000, while Hjorth earned $150,000.
The tournament moved to historic Wykagyl, the site of an LPGA Tour stroke-play event from 1990-2006, this year after two seasons at Hamilton Farm in New Jersey. "It's a beautiful course and well designed for this format," said Paul Lawrence, the CEO of HSBC Bank in the United States. "This is a great location, with the close proximity to New York City." ... The tour will be in Europe the next two weeks for the Evian Masters in France and the Women's British Open at St. Andrews.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press