It took only 4 holes for Shiho Oyama to lose her 2-stroke third-round lead on Momoko Ueda and the 2 players have been trading the lead back and forth ever since. Through 13 holes they're both at -7, 2 shots ahead of leader-in-the-clubhouse Yuko Mitsuka, who's already moved up from T22 to T3 on the strength of a 7-birdie 67. And 6 other players still on the course are within 3 shots of the leaders as they enter the home stretch, including Sakura Yokomine at -4 and 2008 winners Bo-Bae Song and Eun-A Lim at -5. It's still anyone's tournament among this group.
Here's how we got here. Oyama bogeyed the 2nd hole, but it was her bogey on the 4th coupled with an Ueda birdie that dropped her 1 behind the JLPGA's leading money winner last season (and the LPGA's #3 rookie this one). But 2006's leading money winner on the JLPGA bounced back with a birdie on the par-3 6th to pull even with Ueda, and that's where they stood after Ueda went bogey-birdie over the next 2 holes. Oyama bogeyed the 9th for a 38, though, and just like after 45 holes she trailed Ueda by 1. Ueda, however, bogeyed the par-3 11th to fall back to E on the day and -7 for the tournament--and that's where both leaders stand with 5 holes remaining.
They're lucky nobody closer to them at the end of the 3rd round has made a big move. The first-round leader and leading golfer on the JLPGA over the past 2 seasons Sakura Yokomine has struggled to regain her form from the first round; although she opened with a birdie, 3 bogeys on the front cost her a 38 and she's only just recently bounced back to -4 with a birdie on the 13th. Can she show the resilience of a Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open and bounce all the way back to the lead? Unlike Tiger, Yokomine has been plagued by painful runner-ups all season, so she'll have a lot of demons to overcome to get to, say, -6 by the end of the day and put some pressure on Oyama and Ueda.
Even players with a win this season like Bo-Bae Song and Eun-A Lim have found it difficult to get into gear today. Lim birdied the 1st, bogeyed the 9th, and parred her other 11 holes thus far to remain at -5, where she has been joined by Song, thanks to birdies on the 9th and 12th that offset her 3rd-hole bogey. Julie Lu birdied the 1st 2 holes to get to -4, but has made 13 straight pars since then to remain 3 back. The only players with real momentum heading into the home stretch are Chie Arimura (birdies at the 12th and 13th have brought her to -5 with 3 holes left to play) and Ji-Woo Lee (who's gotten to -4 on the strength of birdies on the 12th and 14th), but will it be too little too late for them?
Unfortunately, JLPGA turns off live scoring down the home stretch, so we'll have to wait to find out if anyone can intervene in the Oyama-Ueda brawl at the top of the leaderboard. One thing we do know: it won't be 2008's leading money-winner Akiko Fukushima, who's +4 on her round and in the tournament with 1 hole remaining. Nor will Ji-Hee Lee cut much into Fukushima's 6 million-plus yen-lead on her in the money list, as she opned with consecutive early bogeys and has only just recently erased them with 2 birdies early on the front to get back to -2 for the tournament, T13 with 3 holes remaining. With #3 Miho Koga competing with Ji-Yai Shin, Se Ri Pak, and Na Yeon Choi in the KLPGA's BC Card Classic (and like them chasing veteran Mi Hyun Jo, who's been on fire the 1st 2 rounds, even in the wind and rain Saturday), top 10 players like Miki Saiki and Yukari Baba missing the cut (or like Mi-Jeong Jeon simply missing the tournament), and other top 10ers like Ayako Uehara and Hiroko Yamaguchi struggling mightily this week, the road is clear for Yokomine, Song, and Lim to advance--except for 2 rather large roadblocks in the form of the 2006 and 2007 leading money winners on the JLPGA.
Will Ueda give herself the best birthday present of all? Or will Oyama jumpstart a seemingly DOA season? Stay tuned!
[Update 1 (5:06 am): The roller-coaster ride continued down the stretch in the Suntory Ladies Open, but in the end birthday girl Momoko Ueda turned out to be the one who loves Kobe the most of all. She had to endure consecutive 2-shot swings with Shiho Oyama and late charges by Bo-Bae Song and Eun-A Lim along the way. Song birdied the 12th, 14th, and 18th, but it was her bogey on the 17th that kept her 1 shot behind Ueda. Lim birdied the 17th, but she'll look back to that bogey on the 9th as what kept her out of a playoff. Oyama, though, will face the most might-have-beens. She fell 2 shots behind Ueda when she bogeyed the 15th and Ueda birdied it, but caught her on the very next hole when she birdied and Ueda bogeyed. They traded pars on the 17th and it came down to an Ueda par and an Oyama bogey on the 18th for the Peach Girl to get that win on her birthday.
Here are the final results:
1st/-7 Ueda (70-69-70-72)
T2/-6 Song (69-71-72-70), Lim (68-72-71-71), Oyama (69-69-69-75)
T5/-5 Mitsuka (72-70-74-67), Ji-Woo Lee (74-70-69-70), Yokomine (66-73-72-72)
T8/-4 Asako Fujimoto (71-73-72-68), Arimura (70-73-70-71)
T10/-3 Hiromi Mogi (72-76-67-70), Mie Nakata (75-65-72-73)
T12/-2 Erina Hara (69-71-72-74)
15th/-1 Ji-Hee Lee (71-72-71-73)
T16/E Mika Miyazato (70-74-73-71), Kaori Higo (70-70-74-74)
T21/+2 Tamie Durdin (70-71-74-75)
T26/+3 Yun-Jye Wei (74-73-71-73), Akiko Fukushima (73-71-72-75), Hiroko Yamaguchi (73-72-70-76)
T35/+4 Esther Lee (72-74-70-76)
T45/+5 Mayu Hattori (79-67-75-72), Ayako Uehara (73-74-71-75)
T48/+6 Pornanong Phatlum (73-73-77-71)
T51/+7 Yuki Ichinose (72-69-79-75)
And here's how the money list looks now:
1. Akiko Fukushima ￥49.03M
2. Sakura Yokomine ￥44.17M
3. Ji-Hee Lee ￥43.46M
4. Miho Koga ￥41.39M
5. Eun-A Lim ￥39.29M
6. Bo-Bae Song ￥37.27M
7. Yukari Baba ￥34.41M
8. Miki Saiki ￥32.47M
9. Ayako Uehara ￥31.18M
10. Mi-Jeong Jeon ￥28.80M
Momo-chan's scoring average rose to 70.00 for the first time this season, but the jump to #15 on the money list at ￥17.73M in only 2 events has to get her wondering about playing more in Japan later in the season....]
[Update 2 (6/16/08, 9:01 am): A few nice details on the missed short putts that cost Oyama and almost cost Ueda in this Kyodo report.]