Friday, June 13, 2008

Suntory Ladies Open Friday: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst....

Saturday is known as moving day across the golfing world, but the second round of the Suntory Ladies Open has jumped the gun. Shiho Oyama, whose lackluster play this season had relegated her to the non-prime time pairings this week, made 5 birdies and 2 bogeys on her way to her 2nd consecutive 69. At -6, she holds a 1-shot lead on first-round leader Sakura Yokomine, thanks to a pair of bogeys as she's started the back 9, and on Momoko Ueda, who made 3 birdies in her first 5 holes and has parred the next 6.

But the biggest moves up the leaderboard have come from unexpected directions. Tied with Yokomine and Ueda is Ah-Reum Huang, a South Korean who hasn't let her low standing in the latest Rolex Rankings (647th at last count) keep her from going low when it matters. But her 6-birdie, 2-bogey 68 is not even the best round of the morning. That honor goes to Mie Nakata, who fired a bogey-free 65 to go from struggling to make the cut to 2 shots from the lead. Also giving herself a chance to get into contention on Sunday is another relatively unheralded Korean on the JLPGA, Ji-Yeon Han, whose 32 on the back and 67 overall helped her get to -2 for the tournament, good enough for T15 at the moment. Jae-Hee Bae, who like Han has been hanging in the 140s in the Rolex Rankings, fired a 68 to get to -1 (T20). Meanwhile, another 67 came from JLPGA young gun Mayu Hattori, although it might end up being too little, too late, as she currently sits at T45, in danger of falling on the wrong side of the cut line. A 69 by fellow young gun Yuki Ichinose has brought her to -3 for the tournament (T7).

But Erina Hara's double bogey on the 12th that erased her 2 front-side birdies shows how difficult going under par, much less breaking 70, has been for the majority of the field. If the highest-ranked Japanese young gun is finding it hard to score today, the struggles of some of the JLPGA's top players are even more telling. Let's start with Midori Yoneyama, who WDed after shooting a 77 yesterday. JLPGA legend Yuri Fudoh, who's been stalled in her quest to break the 1 billion yen mark in career winnings since her win early in the season, may well be tempted to do the same--she is +1 on the day but +8 for the tournament with 3 holes left to play. Right with her is Yukari Baba, who's +3 with 4 holes remaining before she officially misses the cut. Shinobu Moromizato is "only" +7 for the tournament, but at +4 through 13, she could easily miss the cut by more than them. Riko Higashio shot her 2nd straight 75 to give them all something to shoot for. Perhaps the most shocking move in the wrong direction, though, has been made by Miki Saiki, who holds the 3rd-lowest scoring average of the regulars on the JLPGA: at +5 through 33 holes, she'll need a furious charge to have a hope of making the cut. It's too late for Hiromi Mogi, whose 76 brought her to +4, while Akane Iijima and Maiko Wakabayashi have 6 holes left to avoid her fate. It's too late, as well, for Yun-Jye Wei, whose 73 put her at least 1 shot below the cut line.

In the time it's taken me to write this, Sakura Yokomine got back to E on the day and -6 for the tournament with a birdie on the 14th hole. A good number of notables from the afternoon rounds have been stuck in neutral like her, bouncing around between +1 and -1. More on them in a little while.

[Update 1 (2:48 am): Talk about collapses--Ayako Uehara bogeyed 4 of her final 6 holes to go from top 20 to MC. In the opposite direction, Erina Hara birdied the 18th (a hole she bogeyed last round) to end up under par today (71) and T5 at -4, only 2 shots out of the lead, which Oyama holds alone again, thanks to a Yokomine bogey on the 16th.]

[Update 2 (2:54 am): Wakabayashi is now +5 on the tournament with 5 holes left to play, while Iijima has moved back to +3 (T52 right now). Akiko Fukushima is making even more of a move in the right direction, thanks to birdies on the 14th and 15th. At -2 in her round and -1 in the tournament with 2 holes left to play, she is giving herself a chance to get in the mix on Sunday.]

[Update 3 (2:58 am): Yokomine's struggles continue with a bogey on the 17th. Have all her near-misses this season--including a horrific playoff loss to Ji-Yai Shin--begun weighing on her nerves? Whatever the reason, Eun-A Lim, who's fought back to E on her round with birdies on the 9th and 12th, is now tied with her at -4. Nakata and Hara are now T4!]

[Update 4 (3:03 am): Bo-Bae Song is one of those players stuck in neutral that I mentioned earlier; with a birdie on the 5th, a bogey on the 6th, and 10 pars under her belt, she has 6 holes left to get herself right in the thick of things before Sunday's round begins. Kaori Higo is doing just that, thanks to a birdie on the par-5 14th that has brought her back to -2 on her round (she had birdied 3 of her 1st holes but bogeyed the 7th and 9th) and to -4 for the tournament (T4).]

[Update 5 (3:08 am): Ji-Hee Lee had a disastrous start to her day after an opening-hole birdie--a double bogey and 2 bogeys in her next 5 holes--but with birdies on the 9th, 11th, and 12th, she's fought back to E on her round and -1 for the tournament. With 4 holes left to play, she, too, has a chance to bring herself into the mix.]

[Update 6 (3:18 am): Yokomine concluded her roller-coaster round with a birdie on the 18th to minimize the damage and shoot a 73, the worst round of anyone in the top 20 except for Chie Arimura (-1, T20) and Miki Sakai (-2, T15), who matched it. So the biggest story of moving day is Yokomine's failure to stay ahead of the chase pack, bringing hope to the 26 players who are within 5 shots of the lead. Given that Nakata made up 8 shots on the first-round leader, Oyama can't be resting comfortably, particularly with Ueda 1 shot back with 1 hole left to play and Higo making her 2nd consecutive birdie to join the logjam at -5.]

[Update 7 (3:24 am): Young gun Mika Miyazato fell off the pace with a 74 today, but at E (T28) she's still ahead of Hiroko Yamaguchi, whose 72 kept her at +1 for the tournament (T36). Meanwhile, the cut line has moved back to +3, giving Uehara and Wei some hope, but Iijima has moved back to +4 with 2 holes left to make a birdie. At T56 with very few groups left on the course, she can't count on the cut line coming back to her.]

[Update 8 (3:28 am): A bogey on the 18th dropped Fukushima (71) back to E on the tournament. Ueda maintained her par streak and ended the day with a bogey-free 69 to make up 4 shots on Yokomine and join her at -5 (T2).]

[Update 9 (3:31 am): With a birdie on the par-5 14th, Bo-Bae Song just caught Kaori Higo, who just bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall back to -4 (T5). Tamie Durdin birdied the 4th and 7th to join them; with 2 holes left to play, she has a great chance to break 70 and get into one of the final groups.]

[Update 10 (3:41 am): Julie Lu's 69 and Yuko Mitsuka's 70 that brought them to -2 (T14) are looking better and better. Certainly Eun-A Lim, who just bogeyed the 16th hole to go back to +1 on her round today and drop to -3 (T11), would think so. If Lu and Mitsuka can go low over the weekend, they could end up with their best finishes of the year.]

[Update 11 (3:50 am): Durdin bogeyed the 9th to fall back to -3 (T10), but is still only 3 shots out of the lead. Much better than Iijima, who bogeyed the 18th to join Wakabayashi at +5, definitively on the wrong side of the cut line, which remains at +3 (T50). With 8 golfers on or within 1 shot of it, though, it's a mystery where it will end up.]

[Update 12 (3:54 am): Esther Lee, who's been hot of late, just went cold, going +4 over her past 6 holes to fall to +2 with only the 9th left to play. Good for her +3 just moved to T48! She could collapse even worse than Uehara did--and they both could end up just barely making the cut.]

[Update 13 (3:59 am): Ladies Asian Golf Tour money leader Pornanong Phatlum made the cut, despite shooting her 2nd consecutive 73. Here's hoping she makes a nice move on the weekend.]

[Update 14 (4:02 am): After all their Friday drama, Higo ended up shooting her 2nd straight 70 (-4, T5) and Ji-Hee Lee a 72 (-1, T21)--hard to tell whether that warrants a sigh of relief or a cry of frustration.]

[Update 15 (4:04 am): Kaori Nakamichi hung in there for a 72 of her own to remain at -4. Wouldn't it be amazing if she went and stole the tournament from all the big names tomorrow?]

[Update 16 (4:07 am): I had overlooked Hiromi Takesue's 32 on the back that helped her get to -3 (T10) and tied Nakata and Han for lowest score on that side of the day. My bad!]

[Update 17 (4:12 am): Eun-A Lim just birdied the 18th to salvage a 72 and join the big group at -4. She and Bo-Bae Song (also at -4 with 1 hole remaining) remain the players with the best chance to become the first repeat winner on the JLPGA in 2008.]

[Update 18 (4:39 am): OK, everyone's in. So let's review.

1st/-6 Oyama (69-69)
T2/-5 Huang (71-68), Ueda (70-69), Yokomine (66-73)
T5/-4 Nakata (75-65), Higo (70-70), Song (69-71), Hara (69-71), Lim (68-72), Nakamichi (68-72)

T11/-3 Ichinose (72-69), Durdin (70-71)
T14/-2 Mitsuka (72-70)
T21/-1 Ji-Hee Lee (71-72), Arimura (70-73)
T27/E Fukushima (73-71), Miyazato (70-74)
T35/+1 Yamaguchi (73-72)
T41/+2 Mayu Hattori (79-67), Phatlum (73-73), Esther Lee (72-74)
T49/+3 Wei (74-73), Uehara (73-74)
T55/+4 Mogi (72-76)
T65/+5 Wakabayashi (76-73), Iijima (75-74)
T79/+6 Saiki (75-75), Higashio (75-75)
T94/+8 Fudoh (79-73), Baba (77-75), Moromizato (75-77)
WD Yoneyama
? Na Zhang

Oyama, Ueda, and Yokomine are going for their long-awaited 1st win of 2008, Song and Lim are racing to see who can become the first repeat winner on tour this season, Hara, Nakata, and Higo are also looking to become first-time winners, while Huang and Nakamichi are the dark horses. But this is still basically a free-for-all, as 26 players are within 5 shots of the lead!]

[Update 19 (6/14/08, 5:48 am): My mistake--I had missed that this is a 4-day event and that the cut included the top 60 and ties.]

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