SHIMA, Japan -- Momoko Ueda is hoping to turn around a disappointing season this week with a successful defense of her title at the Mizuno Classic on the LPGA Tour.
Ueda beat China's Shanshan Feng in a three-hole playoff last year to add to her win here in 2007. The 26-year-old Japanese player has struggled this season, with her best results coming at the LPGA Lotte Championship and Evian Masters, where she tied for 12th.
"I know I didn't have such a great start to my season, or the middle part," Ueda said. "I guess I prepared myself a lot for this tournament and hope to make the best out of it."
Ueda will have to contend South Korean Inbee Park, who won the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia three weeks ago and was runner-up at the Sunrise Taiwan Championship on Sunday.
Park, who leads the money rankings, has had 11 top-10 finishes in her last 12 events with two wins and five second-place finishes. She has seen success in this tournament with a tie for eighth in 2010 and a tie for fifth in 2009.
"I've been getting a lot of confidence over the last three months, especially with my long game," Park said. "My swing is getting really comfortable."
Park's strong showing has allowed her to move within 28 points of American Stacy Lewis in the Player of the Year standings and she could move ahead of Lewis with a win at the Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club.
Taiwan's Yani Tseng, who has three wins this season, and South Korea's Jiyai Shin, who won here in 2010 and 2008, are also front runners in the 79 player field.
Norway's Suzann Pettersen, winner of the previous two tournaments, is taking this week off.