The first round of the Suntory Ladies Open is under way and Momoko Ueda's brief return to the JLPGA seems to have brought out the best in its best player. Although Ueda made 6 birdies, including 3 over her final 7 holes, she also made 4 bogeys in her first 11. Her 70 puts her in a tie for 7th place, 4 shots behind leader Sakura Yokomine, who birdied her final 3 holes and 7 overall. Will the JLPGA's current #1 player hold off its former one?
Several other players will have a say in the final result, however. KLPGA transplant Eun-A Lim, one of the 13 different players to have won one of the 13 2008 events, fired a bogey-free 68; expect her to show more staying power over the weekend than Kaori Nakamichi, who made 6 birdies in her first 14 holes to match her. Also in the mix is Bo-Bae Song, another winner this season, who birdied 4 of her first 5 and 2 of her last 5 on the way to a roller-coaster 69. Erina Hara and Miki Sakai's 69s were just as eventful: Hara birdied 4 in a row on the front to fire a 33 and added 2 more consecutive birdies midway through the back, but offset them with 3 bogeys, including one on the 18th; Sakai was -4 through 12 and playing bogey-free golf, but had to recover from 2 bogeys down the stretch with a birdie on the 18th to remain in a tie for 4th.
Joining Ueda at -2 are a host of players including Chie Arimura and Kaori Higo. Still on the course in this large group are Shiho Oyama and Yoko Yamagishi; Oyama has 2 holes on the back to play while Yamagishi is trying to make it 3 birdies over her final 4 holes with a birdie on the 9th.
But most of the JLPGA's stars couldn't match Ueda's results:
T17/-1 Ji-Hee Lee (71)
T26/E Esther Lee (72)
T37/+1 Akiko Fukushima, Ayako Uehara, Hiroko Yamaguchi (73)
T52/+2 Na Zhang, Yun-Jye Wei (74)
T68/+3 Miki Saiki, Shinobu Moromizato, Akane Iijima (75)
T91/+5 Yukari Baba (77)
T109/+7 Yuri Fudoh (79)
And it's not like the rest of those still playing are doing any better: Yuko Mitsuka and Hiromi Mogi are E with a handful of holes left to play on the back, but Mie Nakata (+3 through 17) and Midori Yoneyama (+5 through 17) will be struggling to make the cut tomorrow.
With Miho Koga, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Hyun-Ju Shin taking the week off, the number of players with the capacity and opportunity to chase down Yokomine is smaller than usual. But Fukushima and Ueda have shown the ability to go low any time, Lee, Lim, and Song are racing to become the JLPGA's first repeat winner in 2008, and Oyama, Hara, Arimura, and Higo join Yokomine in looking for their 1st win of the season, so the quality of the chase pack is fairly high.
[Update 1 (4:00 am): Yamagishi stayed at -2, Nakata stayed at +3, and Yoneyama stayed at +5. No change yet for Oyama (-2 through 17), Mitsuka (E through 17), and Mogi (E through 16).]
[Update 2 (4:04 am): Oyama birdied the 18th--making it a pair of birdies over her first and last 4 holes of the round--to get to -3 (T4). Ueda and the gang at -2 are now T8. Mitsuka finished at E.]
[Update 3 (4:09 am): Mogi birdied the 17th to get to -1. If she can make par or better on the 18th, she'll bring to 26 the number of players under par after the first round.]
[Update 4 (4:17 am): I just noticed that Tamie Durdin birdied 3 holes in a row on the back to join Ueda's cohort at -2. Only Yokomine played the final 5 holes on the back better. Durdin's only good finish of the season was a T11 and she's already missed 5 cuts, so tomorrow will be a big round for her.]
[Update 5 (4:21 am): Mogi bogeyed the 18th, becoming one of 37 players at par or better.]
[Update 6 (4:39 am): Eric at Seoul Sisters notes that Koga is playing in Korea this week--in a strong field that includes Se Ri Pak, Na Yeon Choi, and Jin Joo Hong. This provides me with a great opportunity to link to two fantastic posts by Hound Dog, one his first KLPGA ranking and the other his analysis of why so many Korean players are playing outside Korea.]