Miyazato increases lead at Safeway Classic

World's No. 2-ranked golf up by three going into final round

By Brian T. Smith, Columbian Sports Writer

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NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Ai Miyazato has competition. But the competitors are still looking upward.

Miyazato stretched her lead to three strokes Saturday during the second round of the LPGA Safeway Classic, shooting a 5-under-par 67 at Pumpkin Ridge’s Ghost Creek Course.

Miyazato has won four tournaments this year. A strong finish during the final 18 holes on the par-72 course is likely the only obstacle preventing her from capturing number five.

LPGA SAFEWAY CLASSIC

When: Today (third and final round)

Where: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains, Ore.

Purse: $1,500,000

TV: Golf Channel, cable Channel 33

Web:safewayclassic.com

Related story:Inkster DQd from tournament.

“I just don’t want to really force it,” Miyazato said. “Just let it happen.”

While Miyazato extended her lead, two second-round surges made today’s final run much more interesting.

Song-Hee Kim and Ji Young Oh shot 8 under Saturday. Kim’s strong outing vaulted her into a tie for second place at 8-under overall with Na Yeon Choi, who shot 5 under during the second round. Oh, who shot 2 over Friday, moved to 6-under overall and into a four-way tie for sixth place.

But Kim made the largest leap. An eagle on the par-5 10th hole and six birdies propelled the South Korean, placing her just three shots behind Miyazato with one round to go.

Kim said perfect weather and ideal playing conditions first lifted her spirits.

Then a new putter and a lack of nerves combined to create a memorable day — one highlighted by her 10th-hole eagle that saw a 40-foot chip find the bottom of the cup.

Kim joked that she hopes the postcard-perfect weather holds today. And 12 top-10 finishes this year have given her the confidence that anything is possible during the final round.

“Focus on my golf and play my own game,” Kim said. “That’s important (today).”

But the coolest confidence still belonged to Miyazato. Bogies on consecutive holes at 11 and 12 proved that the second-ranked player in the sport is vulnerable.

But the way Miyazato recovered at 12 said everything about a refocused mental approach that has her blocking out everything but the ball and the hole.

After poorly striking an attempt from a sand bunker and watching the shot sail over the green, she bounced back to sink an 8-foot chip and prevent a late-afternoon meltdown.

“It was really lucky,” Miyazato said.

She proceeded to birdie two out of her next four holes. And by the time the fifth-year pro from Japan was waiting to drop in her final put at 18, Miyazato was a picture of cool: legs crossed, right hand on her hip, left hand leaning on a putter, staring away from a crowded green and eyeing a serene wind-blown pond.

“It’s not very easy to explain,” said Miyazato, referring to her calmness. “To say it simply, I just try to take it one shot a time. And I think I do really well controlling myself in between shots.”

Miyazato’s calm was sharply contrasted by Juli Inkster’s breakdown.

After initially shooting 5 under Saturday and turning a late rise into a tie for second place, Inskter’s day fell apart once she walked off the course.

The 28-year veteran was informed that her use of a weighted practice donut before teeing off at 10 resulted in a disqualification.

Inkster stormed away after learning about the ruling.

“I had a 30-minute wait and needed to loosen up,” said Inkster, whose lone comment was made available by the LPGA. “It had no effect on my game whatsoever, but it is what it is. I’m very disappointed.”

Cristie Kerr, who won the 2008 Classic, shot 5 under Saturday and improved to 7 under overall, which tied her with Jiyai Shin for fourth place.

Michelle Wie followed up a solid first round by shooting 1 under Saturday, which allowed her to move into a six-way tie for 24th.

Defending Classic champion M.J. Hur failed to make the cut by one stroke after coming in at 4-over par following two rounds.