Golf is fun again as Miyazato takes first-round lead at Kingsmill

Dave Johnson
Contact Reporterdjohnson@dailypress.com
With a late two-hole swing, Mika Miyazato passes Minjee Lee for the first-round lead.

JAMES CITY — For the last few months, the game just wasn’t fun. Five finishes of 42nd or worse will do that to a golfer.

So after a pep talk from her mental coach, Mika Miyazato made herself go into the Kingsmill Championship with a positive attitude. Whether that translated to her best round in 11 months, a 6-under-par 65 that gave her Thursday’s first-round lead, is open for discussion.

“I was more focused on one shot at a time,” Miyazato said. “The last three months, four months, I was not enjoying golf. I tried to enjoy it more this week. I enjoyed golf today.”

What’s not to enjoy about seven birdies, five on her front nine, and only one bogey? It’s the first time Miyazato, a 25-year-old native of Japan, has led since … actually, she doesn’t know herself. But here she is, one shot ahead of Brittany Lincicome and 2015 Kingsmill champion Minjee Lee.

Shortly after 6 p.m., it didn’t appear headed that way. Lee had just drained a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 17 to put her 6 under and atop the leaderboard. Miyazato was one of three golfers tied for second at 5 under.

But on 18, after just missing a chip from the edge for birdie, Lee flubbed a 3-foot putt coming back. It was her only bogey of the day, and it left her in a four-way tie for first.

Not for long. Miyazato birdied No. 8, and in a blink, there was a new leader. One no one could have expected to be near the top at any point of the tournament.

Miyazato’s last (only, in fact) tour win came in 2012. But she was in control Thursday afternoon on the River Course with only 24 putts.

“Very excited,” she said.

Lee was on the verge of becoming the first defending champion at Kingsmill to lead after the first round the following year. Instead, it was a bad ending to an otherwise-solid day.

“I thought I was pretty steady,” Lee said. “I started off pretty well, made four birdies on the front nine and then two on the back. And bogeyed the last. Overall, pretty solid.”

Lincicome, who teed off shortly before 8 a.m., was the leader for most of the day after her 66. A big reason was her putter, which had abandoned her of late. She had 27 putts Thursday, five fewer than she had averaged in her previous four events.

“I made some 5-, 10-footers to save par, which hadn’t been happening,” Lincicome said. “I’ve been making birdies, just not making the (putts) to save par. If (I) missed the green, which I didn’t do too often, I knew my putter was there to help me.”

Though Miyazato has the lead, the leaderboard is crowded at the top. After Lee and Lincicome, there are eight players tied at 4 under. Among them are the expected (Sei Young Kim, Gerina Piller) and the surprising (Jennifer Song, Laetitia Beck).

Piller, a 31-year-old American, has 28 career top-10 finishes (six this year) but no championships. She had a share of the lead before making her second bogey on No. 18. Still, it was the third consecutive tournament she shot at least 4 under in a round.

“I know that I’m playing great,” she said. “I’ve just got to stay patient. I know that there are some birdies out there, especially with the course being soft and the greens being soft.”

Beck, the first player from Israel to compete on the LPGA Tour, had maybe the most interesting day. She made two eagles, both on the par-5s (7 and 15). Her second put her at 6 under and in first place — however briefly.

Beck admits that got to her. She bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 before making par on 18.

“For me, it’s my second year (on the tour),” Beck said. “I’m just gaining experience. Obviously, I become super-nervous when I saw that I’m leading, but it’s part of the process, and it’s only going to make me better for the future.

“So I enjoy seeing myself leading. Even though I didn’t finish so well today, (it’s) just another opportunity to get better and learn from it.”

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.

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