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Women's World Cup hailed a success

The inaugural co-sanctioned Women's World Cup of Golf, successfully staged last week in South Africa, is almost certain to become a permanent fixture on the golfing calendar.

More than 15,000 spectators watched the Japanese duo of Ai Miyazato and Rui Kitada win the title at Fancourt Estate's monstrous par-73 Links Course, finishing two shots clear of the Philippines and South Korea with a three-under-par total of 289.

It has taken the Ladies European Tour and the U.S. Ladies Professional Golfers Association more than five years to make the tournament a reality and they could not have asked for a more auspicious showpiece in South Africa.

Miyazato and Kitada, who both burst into tears after sealing victory on Sunday, enthusiastically endorsed the event and promised they would return to defend their crown.

"We are very proud and happy. I am sure the World Cup will be known through our game and our country," the 19-year-old Miyazato said.

As far as understatements go, this was possibly the biggest of the week. With more than 40 members of the Japanese media in attendance at Fancourt, there was little chance Japan's South African triumph would go unreported.

When former men's world number one Tiger Woods triumphed at the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan last November, Miyazato was winning Japan LPGA title.

The two events went head-to-head on Japanese television, and Miyazato's victory dwarfed the ratings achieved by Woods.

Now that she and Kitada have clinched the inaugural Women's World Cup, the profile of the female game should enjoy a significant boost -- both in Japan and worldwide.

Asian teams took the top three spots at Fancourt, proving the continent is a fertile breeding ground for some of the women's game's most talented players.

"The media interest has been unbelievable," Women's World Cup director Tania Fourie said. "It's been wonderful to have had so many media from around the world covering this event."

The players were also delighted to be at Fancourt.

"I think it's a great event and I'll definitely be back if I qualify for next year," said England's four-times major winner Laura Davies.

"My only concern is that this is probably the toughest golf course any of us will play the entire year and, for most of us, it's our first tournament of the season.

"The course beat us up, but next year we will be better prepared."

South Africa has a three-year deal to host the team competition and would expect to attract an even stronger field in 2006.

Leading players like Sweden's Annika Sorenstam, South Korea's Grace Park and American Michelle Wie did not compete last week but, as news of the Fancourt success filters through the locker rooms around the world, could well appear next year.

The competition format was inspired and inventive. The opening fourballs, the foursomes on day two and the last-day singles -- with both scores to count -- provided exciting viewing as the leaderboard fluctuated wildly.

The strokeplay singles was especially riveting with teams losing up to six shots a hole, as Italy did on the treacherous par-four 15th.

This meant a seven-stroke lead could not even be considered safe, as Japan discovered on the final day when they slipped from 10 under on the 11th tee to one under by the time they reached the 17th.

The difficult Links course is designed for drama, underlining this at the 2003 President's Cup when a playoff between American Tiger Woods and Ernie Els of South Africa to settle the match was abandoned because of fading light.

For sheer drama, the Women's World Cup almost rivalled that at Fancourt. Undoubtedly, the players and viewers who missed out last week will certainly keep a much closer eye on the action in 2006.

As Fourie pointed out: "I think what has really been pleasing for me is the fact that we actually managed to get South Africa -- and the world -- to watch women's golf for a change."

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