PORTLAND, Ore. – Ai Miyazato was in uncharacteristic territory to start the final round of the LPGA Safeway Classic.
She was nervous.
While Miyazato normally appears composed, the jitters were evident when the Japanese star bogeyed the par-4 second hole on the Ghost Creek Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. Then she bogeyed the par-4 seventh.
It wasn’t until a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole that she steadied herself – and cruised to her fifth victory of the year. Miyazato, who also led after the first two rounds, closed with an even-par 72 to finish at 11 under.
“Today was a really tough day,” she said. “I was really nervous on the front nine. But after nine holes I made a birdie and it gave me a good kick.”
With the win, Miyazato reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings, swiping that status from Cristie Kerr, who finished two strokes back along with Na Yeon Choi.
Kerr chased Miyazato throughout the final round until hitting into the water on the par-4 18th. The American finished with a 70, while Choi shot a 71.
Miyazato, ranked No. 1 for a week in June and again for a week in July, is among five players who have been jockeying for the top ranking, including Kerr, Jiyai Shin, Suzann Pettersen and Yani Tseng. The spot came up for grabs when Lorena Ochoa retired earlier this season.
“My goal at the start of this year was to become Player of the Year. So I’m aiming for that,” she said. “Everybody is so close at the top, so I don’t really know what is going to happen. But it’s a good motivator for me.
The Safeway Classic, in its second year at Pumpkin Ridge about a 20-minute drive west of Portland, was marred Saturday when veteran Juli Inkster, in strong position to contend in the final round, was disqualified.
The 50-year-old Hall of Famer used a weighted training aid on her club to stay loose while waiting for 30 minutes to make the turn at the 10th hole. That broke rule 14-3, which meant disqualification.
Miyazato and Kim, playing in the final pairing of the day, battled on the back nine holes after Kim pulled even with Miyazato with a jaw-dropping chip from under a tree to birdie the par-3 11th. But Kim dropped two shots with bogeys on the 13th and 14th holes.
In the pairing in front of them, Kerr missed a chance to pull even with Miyazato by misjudging a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 17. Her chances slipped away with the shot into the water on the final hole.
“I just said to myself, `How could you do that?”’ she said.
Kerr has won twice on the tour this season, at the LPGA Championship and the State Farm Classic. She won the Safeway Classic in 2008 when it was at Columbia Edgewater Country Club near Portland International Airport.
“I’m not going to be far off as far as points, so this was an important week for me to finish up there even if I didn’t win,” she said.
Pettersen (69) and Song-Hee Kim (72) finished at 8 under.
Tseng, who the Women’s British Open on Aug. 1 for her second major victory of the season and third in three years, finished 2 over.
M.J. Hur, the defending champion, was 4 over and did not make the cut. The Safeway Classic is her first and only title to date. Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Christina Kim were among those who also missed the cut.
Inkster was in a three-way tie for second at 8 under with Kim and Choi after two rounds. But that was erased when she used the “doughnut” training aid to practice her swing before making the backed-up turn, and the image flashed on television.
LPGA Director of Tournament Competitions Sue Witters said a viewer watching the broadcast brought the violation to the attention of tournament officials via email. By that time, Inkster was almost done with her round.
“I had a 30-minute wait and I needed to loosen up,” Inkster said in a statement. “It had no effect on my game whatsoever, but it is what it is. I’m very disappointed.”