Ai Miyazato offered up her victory as a farewell tribute to her friend.
Miyazato said she wanted to show Lorena Ochoa what she has gained studying her during Ochoa’s reign as the No. 1 player in women’s golf.
“I’ve learned so much from Lorena,” Miyazato said in a telephone call Sunday after she won the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico. “I love Lorena’s passion for the game, what she’s done for her country, what she’s done off the course. I wanted to play well for her this week, to show her how well I’m playing now.”
That was the stirring subplot to Sunday’s emotional conclusion to the Tres Marias Championship.
The fiercely competitive fight to assume Ochoa’s throne was equal parts thrilling and sad.
“When I won, I thought about Lorena,” said Miyazato, who played the first two rounds with Ochoa. “I’ve been crying all week.”
Ochoa, 28, said goodbye to more than she intended in her farewell appearance as a full-time player. She was bounced from her No. 1 spot with those who crave her crown impatiently pressing their cases with ruthless charges.
South Korea’s Jiyai Shin should ascend a spot to No. 1 in the newest rankings, according to unofficial LPGA projections, though tour officials aren’t ruling out the possibility Miyazato won’t assume the top spot when the final numbers are crunched. Shin, though, appears best positioned to move up after winning Sunday at the Japan LPGA Tour’s CyberAgent Ladies event in Chiba.
If that’s the case, Miyazato looks poised to make sure that’s a short-lived run.
Five events into the new LPGA season, Miyazato, 24, has already claimed three victories. That’s the hottest start on the LPGA since Annika Sorenstam won three of the first four events in 2005.
Ochoa, 28, wanted to go out on top, but with Shin winning overseas, she was forced to finish fourth or better to hold onto her No. 1 ranking, according to LPGA projections. Ochoa finished sixth but found more than consolation in Sunday's outpouring of love from fans and fellow players alike.
'I announced my retirement [as No. 1] last week,' Ochoa told reporters in Mexico. 'Today, I'm still No. 1.'
Miyazato and Shin are worthy successors to the classy legacy Ochoa leaves. Their sweet, humble dispositions rival Ochoa’s. They don’t play the game the same way Ochoa did, though. They aren’t power players. Instead, they make their livings with straight driving, terrific iron play and short games.
That an Asian should ascend to No. 1 this week, specifically a South Korean, is fitting.
Players from the Far East have a sweep going this year. They’ve won all five LPGA events played.
Sixty-one players from the top 100 in the world rankings this week are Asian
South Korea rules with 34 players among the top 100. Japan’s next with 21 and the United States is third with 20.
Miyazato is a rock star in Japan, a huge draw there who brings a legion of journalists wherever she plays.
The question is how Miyazato and Shin will impact American interest if they continue to separate themselves this season.
There were other strong messages delivered from challengers Sunday in Mexico.
Michelle Wie, 20, got herself in position to win, boosting American hopes that one of their own will jump hard into this fight for Ochoa’s throne.
Wie took command going to the back nine at Tres Marias Country Club. She holed a wedge from the fairway for eagle to take a one-shot lead to the 10th tee. A victory on this Sunday, in this goodbye to Ochoa, would have been convincing evidence that Wie is this tour’s Once and Future Queen, but she stumbled down the stretch with Miyazato charging. Wie double bogeyed the 13th and missed a 2-footer for par at the 17th. Wie’s ability to put herself in position to win bolsters her fans’ beliefs that she’s headed in the right direction while fueling her critics’ beliefs she’s yet to prove she can close hard enough to be dominant.
American Stacy Lewis, 24, stepped up with an impressive challenge. She put the most pressure on Miyazato, making a clutch birdie at the 18th to force Miyazato to hole a 10-foot putt for par to win at the final hole. Lewis, the tough Texan who tied for third as an amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open two year ago, showed she might be ready to mount a challenge as the best American in the game.
Brittany Lincicome, 24, also made progress in this event, challenging before a disappointing Sunday fade.
Yani Tseng, No. 3 in the world, wasn’t in this week’s field. No. 4 Suzann Pettersen wasn’t a factor until closing with a 65 on Sunday to log a top-10 finish. No. 6 Cristie Kerr wasn’t in the field, but all three of these players are sure to have something to say about who ultimately rules over this tour.
The nature of Sunday’s finish says something about the hard scramble that might be ahead as the tour searches for its next dominant player.