NAPLES, Fla. — Ai Miyazato of Japan kept telling herself to be patient and the putts would start falling. It all came together Friday at the Titleholders, where she felt as if she couldn't miss until her final putt dropped for an 8-under 64 and a one-shot lead.
Two big birdie runs gave Miyazato a good chance to finish off the year with her third win. She finished the front nine with four birdies in a five-hole stretch, then ran off three straight birdies on the back nine at The TwinEagles Club, which had given her fits in the opening round.
Miyazato was at 10-under 134, one shot clear of U.S. Women's Open Na Yeon Choi, who also felt comfortable with the putter on the expansive greens with big undulations. Choi also finished with a big putt, from about 12 feet, only it was for par.
"I've been dealing with my putting since last month and it just didn't go in," Miyazato said. "But I just say to myself, `Just be patient and it's going to go in some day.'"
Turns out they went in all day.
Sun Young Yoo, one of three players who shared the lead going into the second round, thought she was only two shots back when she walked off the course. She was approached by rules officials in the scoring tent, who pointed out that her arm was not shoulder-high when she took a penalty drop on the 14th hole. That made a bad hole even worse, as Yoo was assessed a one-shot penalty and had a 71.
Yoo was at 7-under 137, along with Suzann Pettersen, Karine Icher and Brittany Lincicome, who was happy to just be playing.
The LPGA Tour had an online contest where fans could vote who they wanted for the feature pairing on television. Lincicome won, and then was worried she couldn't play. Her lower back seized up on her at the start of the week, and it got so bad Thursday that she needed a therapist to come out to the golf course to work out the kinks.
One of the biggest hitters in golf, she took it easy and kept her thoughts only on the next shot, and it paid off. Lincicome had a 69, and now heads into the weekend with a dozen others in the hunt for the $500,000 first-place check.
"I just tried to guide it down the middle and get back in control of things," Lincicome said.
Stacy Lewis still has high hopes, though she has plenty of work to catch up.
Lewis has been distracted all week with the Friday night awards dinner in which she was honored as the LPGA player of the year, the first American to win the biggest award in women's golf since Beth Daniel in 1994.
Lewis had a 72 on Friday, leaving her eight shots behind.
"Pretty frustrating," Lewis said. "My game just hasn't been sharp the last two days. Just been a little off putting, a little off chipping, a little off the iron game. You can kind of see it in the scores. Just haven't quite got things going."
Karrie Webb rolled in a 30-foot eagle putt up the ridge on the 13th to get into the hunt, and a birdie on the last hole gave her a 69. She was in a group at 6-under 138 that included So Yeon Ryu, who was honored Friday night as rookie of the year. Ryu won the U.S. Women's Open last year, but she was not an LPGA Tour member.
Michelle Wie was four shots better than her opening round – a 77 – that put her in last place in the 73-player field, 24 shots behind. She headed for the practice range and worked on her swing as her parents watched.
The somber moment of the round for every player came on the par-3 17th, where a red golf cart with "OU" painted on one side and the Chicago Cubs logo on the other was sitting on the other side of the bridge. It was a tribute to Doug Brecht, a former Oklahoma women's golf coach and longtime LPGA rules official who died last month at age 62 of complications from the West Nile Virus.
The players stopped at the cart and wrote messages and remembrances for Brecht.
The day ended with some confusion for Yoo, who was unaware of her bad drop until Janet Lindsey talked to her before signing the card.
Yoo's troubles began with a tee shot well right of the fairway and into a bush. She tried to blast it out with a 5-iron, and the ball became lodged. Taking a penalty drop, her arm was well below her shoulder. Yoo punched out, hit on the green and took two putts for a double-bogey 7. Then, it became an 8.
"I didn't try to cheat. I didn't think about my arm's height," Yoo said. "It's my mistake. I'm still only three shots behind. I'm in good position."
It was another bad finish for the Kraft Nabisco champion, who on Thursday ended with a pair of three-putts for a double bogey and a bogey. This was only an extra stroke, but it left her surprised. She had no idea she had taken an improper drop until after her round.
"All I can do is just forget about it," Yoo said. "I'll learn from this mistake, and next time I won't make it."
Miyazato, Choi, just about every player in the field is trying to end on a high note, even though very little is at stake. Lewis already has wrapped up player of the year and would need to win to have any chance at the money list, which Inbee Park leads. Park was at 4-under 140.
Choi still has work to do. She is playing in two more events in Asia, and then plans to spend Christmas in South Korea. As a testament to how hard she works, Choi said a year ago she took the first vacation of her life – to Indonesia and then Tokyo.
"The first time I went without golf clubs," she said.