Akane Iijima, Ji-Hee Lee, and Sakura Yokomine made huge moves Saturday at the Japan Women's Open as Esther Lee's continuing struggles further compressed the already tight leaderboard. Iijima's bogey-free 69 erased a 5-shot deficit to Esther Lee, who made 5 bogeys and 3 birdies in her own round to drop back to -1. Ji-Hee Lee, meanwhile, came back from a 73-76 start with a bogey-free 68 to pull within 2 of the leaders, 1 behind So-Hee Kim, whose 71 brought her back to E for the tournament, and into a tie for 4th with Ai Miyazato (72) and Nikki Campbell (73). Meanwhile, Yokomine, who was 8 over par after a bogey on the 1st hole, made 5 birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way to pull even at T9 with Momoko Ueda (who made a hole in one on the 153-yard 7th hole but could only manage a 72) and only 1 behind Yuri Fudoh (who eagled the short par 5 6th hole but faltered for a 71) and Midori Yoneyama (who like Fudoh went 33-38).
A few other notables could still pull themselves into contention tomorrow. Eun-A Lim made 4 birdies in a row to close out the front but ballooned to a 39 on the back to fall to T11 at +4 with Ayako Uehara (who made a double and a bogey on her final 2 holes) and Yuki Ichinose (who shot an undistinguished 74).
But most will need a miracle, little or big. Akiko Fukushima went 38-38 to drop to T15 at +5 with Yuko Mitsuka (72) and Rui Kitada (73). Ji-Woo Lee followed up an eagle on the 6th with 4 bogeys and no birdies the rest of the way to join Bo-Bae Song (73) and Erina Hara (74) at +6 (T19). Miho Koga made up for her 77-75 start with a 71 that pulled her into T22 with Shinobu Moromizato (76) and 2nd-round leader of the chase pack Maiko Wakabayashi (80). Hiroko Yamaguchi and Shiho Oyama's 72s kept them at +8 (T29) and +9 (T34), respectively. Mi-Jeong Jeon didn't help her cause with a 73 that sent her into a tie with Oyama and Mie Nakata (78), but she did better than Kaori Higo, whose 80 dropped her all the way back to T45 at +12, or Chie Arimura, who fell to T49 at +13 after a 75, or Saiki Fujita, whose 74 had the same result, or Miki Saiki, who's now T55 at +14 after her 77, or Yukari Baba, who plummetted to next-to-last place with her 80. At least they'll finish in the money, though. Missing the cut after the 2nd round were Yun-Jye Wei, Mayu Hattori, and Tamie Durdin.
With 8 dangerous players right behind the 3 who have so far managed to stay at par or better for the tournament, anything can happen tomorrow. I'll be rooting for Ai-chan!
[Update 1 (10/5/08, 3:38 am): Kyodo News did a little better with this one. But only a little.]