Emotional Miyazato bids likely farewell to Japanese fans

Former women's world number one golfer Ai Miyazato of Japan reacts as she attends a news conference to announce her retirement in Tokyo

(Reuters) – Japanese former world number one Ai Miyazato bid an emotional farewell to her home supporters at the Suntory Ladies Open on Sunday in her first event since announcing she was retiring and what appears increasingly likely to be her last in Japan.

The 31-year-old cited a lack of motivation when she told reporters last month that this would be her last season in professional golf after a glittering career in which she won 15 tournaments in Japan and nine on the U.S.-based LPGA Tour.

On Sunday, the Okinawa-born Miyazato parred the final hole at a packed Rokko Kokusai Golf Club in Hyogo Prefecture to complete the tournament with a two-under-par 286 total, 13 shots adrift of South Korean winner Kim Ha-neul.

Miyazato wept upon sinking her final putt as the gallery gave her a huge ovation.

“I’d give myself a passing mark for the four days overall,” Miyazato, who finished 26th overall, was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.

“This was a special tournament for me, and the motivation I had for this was a bit different. I’m glad I had an opportunity to compete through all four days.

“I’m so grateful for all the fans who came out and supported me. I played the whole week with nothing but gratitude.”

Miyazato is planning to return to North America to compete in more events on the LPGA Tour but her schedule beyond the Sept. 14-17 Evian Championship in France, the fifth and final major of the season, remains up in the air.

Ending her playing career at the French event would represent a fitting finale for Miyazato as it was the venue of her first LPGA Tour title in 2009, before it was upgraded to a major four years later.

“The season is not over yet,” she added. “Now if only I can repay those people who have supported me by getting the ultimate results.”

(Writing by John O’Brien in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)