MORELIA, Mexico – Ai Miyazato has already won two of first four LPGA events this season, and the Japanese star is threatening to win another and spoil the going-away party for Lorena Ochoa.
Miyazato shot 10-under 63 on Thursday – her career-best score against par – to take a two-stroke, first-round lead in the Tres Marias Championship over Spanish rookie Azahara Munoz.
Top-ranked Ochoa, who will retire after this tournament, and Michelle Wie carded 66s.
Miyazato won the Evian Masters last season – her first LPGA victory – and has risen to No. 5 in the rankings. She’s short off the tee – in the 240-yard range – but she may be the most accurate player in women’s golf. She needed only 22 putts on Thursday, most in the 8-to-12 foot range.
“I don’t feel like I’m playing so much better all of a sudden,” Miyazato said. “I feel like this is just one step at a time and building up my confidence. Last year gave me a lot of confidence. Just right now I am showcasing what I can do.”
Miyazato had a 63 two months ago in Thailand in the LPGA’s opening event. That was a 9-under 63.
On Thursday, Miyazato racked up 10 birdies and didn’t drop a shot.
Ochoa asked to be paired with Miyazato and American Natalie Gulbis in the first two rounds. Ochoa grew up in junior golf with Gulbis and described Miyazato “the nicest girl on the tour.”
“I have played with her so many times since I have been on the tour, but today was really special,” Miyazato said. “Natalie and Lorena were really relaxed, so they had an effect on me and I played really relaxed.”
Ochoa, who is stepping away to raise a family and work on her charity foundation, hinted that Miyazato is a candidate to eventually take over her No. 1 ranking. There are many others, too, starting with No. 2 Jiyai Shin, No. 3 Yani Tseng and No. 4 Suzann Pettersen
“I’ve never seen somebody with so much control in her game,” Ochoa said. “It doesn’t matter if she hits long, short, or low or high.”
The surprise near the top of the leaderboard is Munoz, an LPGA rookie who is playing only her second event. But she has experience. She won the 2009 British Women’s Amateur Championship and was the NCAA individual champion in 2008 at Arizona State.
“Maybe I don’t want to feel pressure,” said Munoz, who grew up in Marbella on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. “I know everybody back home wants me to do well, and everyone is following me but I try not to think about it because it is not going to help me.”
Like everyone, Munoz was trying to adjust to Morelia’s altitude of 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), where the ball flies about 10 percent farther. And she wants to play with Ochoa over the weekend.
“I know everyone is going to be cheering for her, but I just want to play with her,” Munoz said. “I never got the chance to do it and it’s her last tournament.”
Wie and Ochoa both started with eagles on their first hole – No. 10. The scores were low with quiet morning winds and favorable flag placements. It will change if the wind blows through the canyons surrounding this mountainside course.
“There are a lot of birdies and eagles out there,” said Wie, who picked up her only LPGA victory last season in Guadalajara, Mexico. “It’s a constant grind to keep making birdies, and even if you are making birdies you’re not really above anyone else.”
Ochoa, who won this event last year for the third time, tried to play the round like any other.
“I woke up in the morning and told myself: ‘We’re here, this is the last tournament, let’s enjoy the moment,”’ Ochoa said.
“For sure I tried not to put too much pressure on myself because otherwise I’d be crying early in the day. Once I hit the golf course I tried to focus on my golf round and play a good 18 holes and then probably the emotions will come.”
Ochoa had an eagle on her first hole – the par-5 10th – hitting a 6-iron approach to 20 feet and holing the putt. Wie hit an 8-iron to 5 feet on the same hole.
Ochoa smiled when she was asked if Miyazato might spoil her final event – by winning it.
“No, I put her with me because she is my friend and it’s better to be with somebody who is playing good, believe me.”