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Walmart NW Arkansas Championship recap: Bittersweet scorching heat
By Vince Robitaille
GolfWRX Staff Writer
The action was heated in more ways than one, last weekend in Rogers, Ark., a former World No.1 rallying late in order to become the third multiple winner on tour this season, a rookie coming out of relative obscurity to make a bid at Venezuelan history, and mercury rising well above the 100 degree mark. Ultimately, it was a slightly bittersweet taste that lingered across the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship’s prime protagonists’ mouths; a friend’s shattered hopes and an array of putts left short dampening the celebrations for both Ai Miyazato and Veronica Felibert.
Going about our business in somewhat of a chronological manner, inspecting the curious case of Veronica Felibert first seems rather appropriate. After enjoying a fruitful amateur career in her homeland, the Venezuelan later packed up her bucket and headed North for South Los Angeles where she recorded two collegiate victories for the Trojans. The two years following her professional debut, however, were less fructuous: a meager tally of three top-10 finishes and no giant check to show for. Despite making it on the big stage by way of Q-School, Felibert seemed doomed to head back down to the Symetra Tour with her tail between her legs; three consecutive missed cuts following her season-best tie for 70th in her very first official event, not raising anyone’s expectations for the summer. Her performance on the grounds of the Pinnacle Country Club this weekend, nonetheless, would go a long way for elevating her name amongst the LPGA’s circles.
Two rounds in, the birthday girl – Felibert turned 27 on Saturday – sat on a rather comfortable cushion, her 12 birdies against a lone blemish extended the gap between her closest pursuers, Mika Miyazato and a peloton consisting of eventual champion Ai Miyazato, last week’s silverware recipient, Brittany Lange, Katie Futcher and Ryann O’Toole, herself to four and five strokes, respectively. Poised to become the first Venezuelan to win on the LPGA Tour – Jhonattan Vegas doing so on the men’s side – and to, perhaps, help lifting the glooming reputation of golf in Venezuela – President Hugo Chávez qualifying golf as a bourgeois distraction and judging that golf clubs should relinquish their lands in order to build habitations for the nation’s homeless, casting a shadow over our sport – the former World No.723 sadly capitulated. Her first round over 70, a 1-over 71 highlighted by a vast quantity of putts that never had a chance as they simply never reached the hole, left the door opened for her adversaries to break in and snatch the trophy that was left unattended on her kitchen table.
The cat burgling Miyazato duo of Ai and Mika, were those who left the crime scene with their paws firmly grasping the prized glassware. Unfortunately for the Japanese compatriots and, most importantly, friends, such pieces can’t be shared or split; thus, an inconvenient ending was to be expected.
Caught in a bind atop the leaderboard at 12-under as Ai recorded a birdie on the par-3 15th, a missed opportunity followed by a sudden error would keep Mika from earning her first LPGA Tour triumph. On the same 15th green, Mika, then facing a straightaway 20-footer, left her attempt 12 inches short of the hole. That mere inch that separated her from a solo lead-worthy, aggregate score of 13 would prove twice as costly due to the subsequent bogey on the par-4 16th. In fact, those two shots enabled Ai to clinch her victory in regulation despite a blunder on the 17th hole; her birdie on the 72nd putting surface getting her back to 12-under. It’s in a tearful embrace that both friends congratulated each other on their respective tournaments. It’s in a disappointing manner that one meteorically rose from World No.723 to No.253. Most importantly, however, it’s in a full throttle that Ai Miyazato enters U.S. Women’s Open week.