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LPGA heads to Japan for last stop on Asia circuit
October 31, 2012

The LPGA Tour heads to Japan for the 40th annual Mizuno Classic for its last stop in its four-week Asia circuit. A 79 player field will compete for three days with a $1.2 million purse and a $180,000 first-place check up for grabs.

Japan’s Momoko Ueda seeks to defend her title after battling China’s Shanshan Feng in a three-hole playoff last year. The course plays hot for Ueda as she claimed her second Mizuno Classic title last season with the first coming in 2007 as a non-member. The five-year veteran on Tour has eight career top-10 finishes, but her season-best in 2012 is a tie for 12th at the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf and the Evian Masters Presented by Societe Generale.

Last year’s victory in Japan provided Momoko Ueda with a number of wonderful memories. With two wins under her belt at the Kintestu Kashikojima Country Club, she says nostalgia is setting in as she returns to the site of her first official LPGA win.

“This definitely brings back a lot of memories, like the time I got to play with Annika and Karrie Webb,” said Ueda. “Playing with the world’s best players, and from that I got to build myself up and it gave me great confidence. It’s a great tournament and I’m glad to be back here again.”

With all eyes on her during a nail-biting playoff with Shanshan Feng last year, Ueda says being surrounded by Japan’s spectators and her family filled her with emotions after watching her winning putt fall.

“The last putt, the winning putt,” Ueda says of her favorite memory from last year. “Of course there was a lot of pressure, being a playoff. But the fans, I feel like with that last putt I became one with all the spectators there. It was very emotional for me after that win.”

Ueda admits her 2012 season hasn’t proved last year’s victory well, with her best finishes coming at the LPGA LOTTE Championship and Evian Masters ending in a tie for 12th. Ueda hopes that perhaps the return to Japan and the course she feels suits her game will be just what she needs to end her season.

“I know I didn’t have such a great start to my season, and middle part,” said Ueda. “I guess I prepared myself a lot for this tournament and hope to make the best out of it. I think this week is special because it’s my mom’s birthday and I think it would be great to win for her.”

There’s no argument that Inbee Park has been on fire for the last three months, which is easily backed up by her impressive stats and high-finishing consistency. With impeccable steadiness with her flat stick, Park leads the LPGA Tour in putting average (28.25) and putts per GIR (1.73). Not to mention she has strung together the longest streak of top-10 finishes this season with 11 in the last 12 events.

The South Korean says this is most comfortable she’s felt over the ball in her six-year tenure on the LPGA Tour.

“I really like the way I’m playing right now,” said Park. “I’ve been getting a lot of confidence over the last three months, especially with my long game. My swing is getting really comfortable and it feels like it’s my swing now.”

Park claimed the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia title at the beginning of the Asia circuit and placed second behind Suzann Pettersen in Taiwan last week. She has seen success in Japan before with a tie for eighth in 2010 and tie for fifth in 2009. She says there’s a level of comfort she always feels each year during these months.

“I’ve always loved the Asia swing,” said Park. “I’m Asian and we get to go to Korea also. It’s been really fun. The LPGA does a great job of taking care of players. This month I’ve kind of taken it as a vacation and it’s really kind of helped my game. I like it.”

At last night’s opening reception, the LPGA presented a plaque to the Mainichi Broadcasting Systems and Sport Nippon Newspapers for 40 years of continuous coverage of the Mizuno Classic.

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