COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – For months now, the battered country of Japan has been looking for a lift.
By using her blossoming golf game as a tool for charity, 21-year-old Mika Miyazato could turn the U.S. Women’s Open into the feel-good story her country seeks – and back it with some cold, hard cash.
Miyazato shot 67 to grab the lead at 5-under-par 137 at the halfway point at the Broadmoor on Saturday, where rain once again stopped play early and brought up the prospect of a grueling, 36-hole Sunday.
She had a one-shot lead over Ai Miyazato – who is not related but is from the same city, Okinawa. When the Miyazatos return to the course, they will play in the final group together, each wearing red and white pins they created to raise awareness for the thousands of victims in a country ravaged by an earthquake, tsunami and the resulting nuclear catastrophe.
The pins have Japanese characters that translate to “Never Give Up Japan.”
For Mika, it goes beyond mere symbols, though. She is donating all her winnings from the 2011 majors to the Red Cross for the recovery cause in her home country. That has already totaled more than $100,000 thanks to top-10 finishes at the first two majors. First place at the U.S. Open is worth around $600,000.
“Winning majors is what I strive for,” she said. “And to donate all of my earnings from the majors, I hope to give positive things to the people who are around the disaster area.”
What a way to make a name for herself – even though Mika has spent most of her young career being confused with Ai Miyazato. Ai has six LPGA Tour victories to none for Mika and she has spent a longer time on the radar as the best hope to become the next golf superstar in a country that loves the game.
Not that Mika has complained much when people get them mixed up.
“Everybody thinks we’re sisters,” she said. “That way, everybody can remember me, because Ai is playing great.”
For the final 36 holes, the Miyazatos will also be grouped with South Korea’s I.K. Kim, who returned early Saturday with the lead, played the last four holes of her second round, then finished the day two shots behind – in third place at 3 under.
In an attempt to bring a Sunday conclusion to a tournament that has fallen behind after three straight afternoons of rain, the USGA will send threesomes off from the 1 and 10 tees Sunday and will not re-pair the groups after the third round. It brings up the prospect, however slight, of having a victory celebration on the ninth green.
Almost certain, though, is that the final 36 holes will be as much a test of endurance as shot-making. Play is set to resume at 6:45 a.m. local time and if there are no interruptions, tournament director Ben Kimbal said the last putt will drop at 7:07 p.m.
“Oh, the USGA makes it really tough for all of us,” said Kim, who has been passing the considerable down time playing games she loaded onto her new iPad. “It’s already tough out there. But weather, I mean, you can’t really control it. You’ve really got to play with what we get.”
The only other players to reach the halfway point under par were Stacy Lewis and Ryann O’Toole, both at 1 under.
Lewis led for much of the second round before making bogey and double-bogey in the hour after play resumed following a rain delay Friday evening. She played the last two holes of the second round Saturday morning and finished with a 73.
“I felt awful last night,” said Lewis, who won the year’s first major, the Nabisco. “I didn’t feel much better when I woke up. It was just really tiring to me. I’ve played 36 holes before, but not on a golf course like this.”
Defending champion Paula Creamer was in a six-way tie at even.
“You’re either above it and move on and you just kind of accept that this is what it is,” Creamer said, “or you dwell about it and let it get to you, and affect your game out there.”
Four-time major winner Yani Tseng, trying to complete the career Grand Slam, was 4 over, nine shots out of the lead. After finishing her frustrating round Saturday morning, she said she was having more trouble dealing with the Broadmoor’s hard-to-read greens than the weather.
But make no mistake. The East Course is taking a hunk out of these players. It’s a 7,000-yard monster at 6,400 feet in elevation – a long walk on a normal day, let alone a multiple-round grind under major-championship conditions. Rounds averaged about 5 1/2 hours Saturday.
“You come to this Open, you have to really prepare,” said Se Ri Pak, who will start the third round at 2 over. “Mentally stronger, physically stronger, your game has to always be strong enough to make sure you stay the whole week.”