BY ELSPETH BURNSIDE
EVIAN, France: Japanese star Ai Miyazato is hoping to bring the curtain down on her sparkling 11 years on Tour in style this week with a first major triumph at the Evian Championship.
A teenage phenomenon who became the women’s world number one seven years ago, Miyazato has won the Evian twice, in 2009 and 2011 – before it became the fifth womnen’s major.
“This is definitely one of my favourite tournaments,” reflected the 32-year-old, who has won 27 times round the globe, ahead of Thursday’s first round.
“I’m happy it is going to be my last event.
Miyazato’s father and coach, Masaru, collapsed on the course in the build-up to the British Open in Scotland, and he is still not well enough to travel to France.
“This week is a little bit bittersweet,” Miyazato, now ranked 108th in the world, continued.
“I feel happy, but I’m kind of sad to leave at the same time, because like I said, I’m going to miss all my friends on the Tour. Dad being ill made me realise family comes first.
“He has been great. He is definitely a good coach, and he’s definitely a good Dad and a good friend of mine. I trust in him. We sometimes fight a little bit. I can be stubborn, but he accepts that.”
Ryu So-Yeon is the current world number one.
Runner-up last year, the South Korean wants to add a first Evian Championship to her trophy cabinet, which already boasts this year’s first major — the ANA Inspiration.
She admits it has not been too easy to adjust to her rise to the top of the women’s rankings.
But she has been working on her mindset with coach Cameron McCormick, who also looks after men’s British Open champion Jordan Speith.
“I haven’t really played well since the US Open and was feeling under a lot of pressure,” admitted the 27-year-old.
“But I want to face the pressure and Cameron has helped. I don’t want to run away from it.
“Everyone says I am in the running for the Player of the Year and the Rolex Annika Major Award – but now I want to enjoy the pressure of chasing things.”
Ryu is sad to see Miyazato depart. “She is a great golfer and a great person,” she said. “She will always be my idol.”
Lexi Thompson, the world number two, has had an up and down season.
Back in March, she lost out to Ryu in a play-off at Mission Hills after she was penalised for misplacing the ball on a green — a misdemeanour only picked up hours later by a TV viewer.
Then, in June, her mother, Judy, underwent treatment for cancer. Thankfully, she is on the road to recovery.
But there have also been highlights.
A win at Kingsmill in May, playing a starring role as the US retained the Solheim Cup and, last Saturday, victory in Indianapolis.
Now she is aiming for a second major title to add to the 2014 ANA Inspiration.
“It’s been a quick turnaround coming here to France, but the course is in great shape,” said the 22-year-old.
“There’s been some rain so it is playing a little longer than usual, but that suits me.
“It has been a crazy year for me. But knowing my Mom is back to being healthy. I think that’s helped me out a lot.”