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Japanese Duo Wins Inaugural Women's World Cup (March 8, 2005)

Kitada and Miyazato hold the World Cup trophy. (Jiji)
The first Women's World Cup golf tournament, an international team event, was won by the Japanese duo of Miyazato Ai, 19, and Kitada Rui, 23. On the dramatic final day of the three-day tournament, Miyazato made up for a loss of form by Kitada and led her team to victory with some brilliant shot making. The impressive performance by the young duo excited golf fans in Japan and around the world. Miyazato has set her sights on competing on the US women's pro tour, and her victory in the World Cup is widely seen as a first step toward becoming one of the world's top female golfers.

Child Prodigy
The Women's World Cup was held from February 11 to 13 in George, South Africa. Twenty teams competed on a difficult course featuring undulating fairways and deep rough. On day one, the two-women teams played four-ball, where each player plays her own ball and the best score on each hole is counted towards the team's total score. On day two they played foursomes, in which the team plays one ball, with the players alternating shots. The final day format was stroke play, where both players' scores count toward the team's total score.

Miyazato is a child prodigy who started learning golf at age four from her father, Masaru, a teaching pro in Okinawa, Japan. Her two brothers are also pro golfers. In September 2003, while still a high school student, Miyazato accomplished the rare feat of winning a pro tournament in Japan as an amateur. She turned pro soon afterwards. In her first year as a pro, she quickly racked up five tournament wins, finished second on the money list, and in so doing became the first teenager to win over ¥100 million yen ($952,000 at ¥105 to the dollar) in prize money.

Kitada, a third-year pro, started playing golf at the age of 10. This rising star of the Japanese golf circuit earned her first win on the pro tour in 2004 and subsequently picked up two more victories on her way to finishing third on the money list.

Stellar Play Attracts TV Viewers
After finishing day one of the World Cup in third place, the Japanese duo surged into a share of the lead with Scotland on day two thanks to Miyazato's bold, attacking play and Kitada's delicate touch. On day three, Miyazato put together a string of birdies with an explosive display of shot making that belied her diminutive 154-centimeter frame, propelling Japan into a comfortable lead. But Kitada began to fall apart on the back nine, and with just two holes to play the team dropped back into a tie with South Korea and the Philippines. Victory was secured, however, when Kitada rallied on the par-three 17th hole to sink a five-meter birdie putt, and Miyazato followed suit, tapping in for a birdie after firing a superb tee shot to within two feet of the pin. Both players safely parred the 18th to claim their prize. "I let Ai down. She carried me the whole day," said a tearful Kitada. Miyazato also cried with emotion following the victory. "We feel very proud to have won this event," she said in English during her victory speech.

The duo's performance was broadcast live on Japanese TV, and though the event took place at around midnight Japanese time, it earned an impressive TV rating of 10%. The victory was also covered prominently the following day by Japan's newspapers.

Ready to Compete Among the World's Best
Japan has been victorious in past World Cup men's competitions, in 1957 with a team of Nakamura Torakichi and Ono Koichi and in 2002 with the duo of Maruyama Shigeki and Izawa Toshimitsu. But there is special significance to the Japanese pair's victory in the inaugural Women's World Cup. Higuchi Hisako (head of the Ladies Professional Golfers' Association of Japan), who won the LPGA Championship in 1977 to become the first and only Japanese pro to win a major title, witnessed the victory firsthand and was elated at the strong statement Miyazato and Kitada made about Japan's presence on the world's golfing stage.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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