Rui Kitada fired a 68 to take a 2-shot lead on Erina Hara into the final round of the Yonex Ladies. Kitada, who won 3 times and ended up 3rd on the money list in 2004, hasn't played to that level since, although she did win again in 2007. She got off to a slow start this season, and despite garnering 6 top 20s in her last 9 starts, including 3 of her 4 top 10s, is languishing in 32nd place on the money list. Hara, meanwhile, is looking for her 2nd win in 3 weeks--and to get back on track after a T40 last week broke her 5-tournament top 10 streak. She birdied 5 of her last 10 holes to pull into solo 2nd. With first-round leaders Yasuko Satoh and Woo-Soon Ko both shooting 74s today to fall 4 shots off the pace, however, this is by no means destined to be a Kitada-Hara shootout. Check out the top 10:
1st/-6 Kitada (70-68)
2nd/-4 Hara (71-69)
T3/-3 Keiko Sasaki (74-67), Maiko Wakabayashi (71-70), Mie Nakata (70-71)
T6/-2 Yun-Joo Jeong (73-69), Tomomi Hirose (72-70), Jae-Hee Bae (72-70), Sakura Yokomine (70-72), Yuri Fudoh (70-72), Kayo Yamada (70-72), Junko Omote (70-72), Satoh (68-74), Ko (68-74)
Wakabayashi came back from a double bogey on the 383-yard par-4 5th with 3 birdies in her last 5 holes to close with a 33. Sasaki's 67 is the best round of the week. Nakata won twice in 2006 and is a seasoned veteran. Jeong's closing 32 ties Hara's for the lowest 9 of the week. Meanwhile, Yokomine and Fudoh are lurking. 4 shots is not much of a lead on them, particularly when you take into account how difficult the course has been playing for most of the field:
T15/-1 Shinobu Moromizato (71-72), Tamie Durdin (71-72), Saiki Fujita (69-74)
T24/E Akiko Fukushima (73-71), Mayu Hattori (71-73)
T31/+1 Chie Arimura (74-71), Nikki Campbell (71-74), Eun-A Lim (69-76)
T42/+2 Yuki Sakurai (75-71), Midori Yoneyama (73-73)
Fukushima made 5 birdies but 4 bogeys in her stalled bid to get into contention, while Arimura made 3 birdies in her 1st 6 holes before stumbling over her last 10. The LET's Sakurai did well to make the cut under these conditions, when such a surprising number of top players and promising young guns missed it:
T52/+3 Ritsuko Ryu (74-73), Ayako Uehara (72-75)
T58/+4 Hiroko Yamaguchi (75-73), Miki Saiki (75-73)
Uehara and Saiki doubled the 17th, a long par 4, while Ryu made 2 birdies down the stretch, but needed 3 to offset her double on the short par-4 12th, and Yamaguchi closed with 8 straight pars after her last birdie of the day on the long par-4 10th. When Noriko Aso can go 77-68 and Yoko Maeda 76-69 to make the cut, these results are bitterly disappointing.
Should be interesting to see if Kitada can return to her winning ways, Hara can become the JLPGA's 4th repeat winner of the season, a young gun like Sasaki or Wakabayashi can step up, or a big name like Yokomine, Fudoh, or Fukushima can make a charge from way back.