Sunday, April 19, 2009

Life Card Ladies Sunday: Ji-Hee Lee Roars Past Yokomine Down the Stretch

Korean golfers have been playing great on the JLPGA for a long time, but of late they've been finding the winner's circle harder to find than usual. Ji-Yai Shin hasn't contended since winning the Mizuno Classic, Ji-Hee Lee has found herself in contention several times since she beat Ai Miyazato in the JLPGA's next-to-last major of 2008 but hasn't been able to close the deal, Mi-Jeong Jeon handed wins to Sakura Yokomine last week and Miho Koga last season with late collapses, Hyun-Ju Shin has been playing steadily but not spectacularly since her return from injuries, and Bo-Bae Song has found her game again after losing it in a big way but has really contended only once. But Ji-Hee Lee may just have ended this trend with her amazing comeback in the Life Card Ladies to beat Sakura Yokomine by 1 shot. A walkoff birdie for the wire-to-wire win capped a run of 4 birdies over Lee's final 5 holes that brought her back from way back in the pack.

Most of the day, it looked like the day belonged to Yokomine, who had been cruising despite a 2nd-hole bogey that had dropped her 2 shots behind Lee; she would hold steady at -2 for the rest of the way. And for a long time, that seemed like it would be just fine, as her fellow leaders were struggling mightily. Ji-Yai Shin started the day tied with Yokomine, only 1 behind Lee, but bogeyed 4 holes between the 5th and 10th to drop to +1. Momoko Ueda started the day 4 behind Lee, but also found herself at +1 as she entered the back 9. But as Ueda made her 3rd, 4th, and 5th bogeys of the day on the 12th, 14th, and 15th holes, and Shin made her 5th on the 15th, as well, it became clear they weren't going to threaten Yokomine's lead. Nor, when Lee made her 5th consecutive bogey on the 11th hole to drop to +1, did it seem like she would be a threat, either. And when Erina Hara bogeyed the 8th to fall 4 off the pace and Yuko Mitsuka bogeyed the 10th to fall 2 back, it seemed that not only was Yokomine on track to rack up from her 2nd straight win, but also that she might well end up the only player in the field to stay under par through 54 holes. Sure, Kaori Aoyama had played bogey-free golf over her 1st 11 holes, making 3 birdies in that stretch to battle back to E, but her bogey on the 12th seemed to end her momentum. And Yuri Fudoh fought back to +1 with her birdie on the 10th, but hadn't distinguished herself from everyone else 1 or 2 strokes over par and well back of Yokomine.

Lee's improbable run began precisely where she almost threw the tournament away on Saturday. She had moved backward in a big way on the 12th through 14th, making a pair of bogeys and a double bogey to fall from -6 to -2 at that point in the tournament. But it was a par save on the 396-yard 12th that got her off the bogey train today. She followed it up with a solid par on the 13th, a long par 3, and a birdie on the 14th, a long par 4. Birdies on the short par 4 15th and short par 3 16th pulled her even with Yokomine at -2. By then, Mitsuka was only 1 back after her own birdie on the 14th, while Hara birdied the 14th and 16th to get back to E, but her own walkoff birdie was too little, too late, for anything but a tie for 3rd with Mitsuka at -1, who parred out over her last 4 holes. Lee and Yokomine, meanwhile, traded pars on the long par 4 17th. But, just like on the previous 15 holes, Yokomine couldn't birdie the 456-yard par 5 18th, while Lee made up for her earlier bogeys on the par-5 9th and 11th with a birdie that brought her her 13th career JLPGA victory.

Here's how they ended up:

1st/-3 Ji-Hee Lee (68-72-73)
2nd/-2 Sakura Yokomine (73-68-73)
T3/-1 Erina Hara (76-69-70), Yuko Mitsuka (73-70-72)
5th/E Kaori Aoyama (76-71-69), Yuri Fudoh (73-72-71)
T7/+2 Kurumi Dohi (73-74-71), Ji-Yai Shin (72-69-77)
T9/+3 Kumiko Kaneda (76-76-67), Mie Nakata (73-74-72), Li-Ying Ye (80-65-74), Momoko Ueda (74-70-75)

Great top 10s for Ye and Kaneda, in addition to Aoyama and Dohi. Kaneda made her 1st professional made cut her 1st professional top 10, on the strength of 7 Sunday birdies.

T13/+5 Chie Arimura (73-76-72), Yuko Saitoh (75-71-73)
T19/+6 Ji-Woo Lee (73-73-76)
T22/+7 Maiko Wakabayashi (73-77-73), Rui Kitada (77-72-74), Midori Yoneyama (76-73-74), Yukari Baba (71-78-74), Hiroko Yamaguchi (73-72-78)
T29/+8 Miho Koga (75-71-76), Kaori Higo (72-76-76)
T32/+9 Tamie Durdin (77-74-74)
T35/+10 Ayako Uehara (77-74-75), Mayu Hattori (75-75-76), Julie Lu (68-82-76)
T39/+11 Shinobu Moromizato (73-79-75), Akiko Fukushima (80-69-78)
T44/+12 Akane Iijima (76-74-78)
T48/+15 Sakurako Mori (76-76-79), Miki Saiki (73-77-81)

The money list race is already heating up this season:

1. Yuko Mitsuka ¥23.47M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥22.20M
3. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥20.48M
4. Ayako Uehara ¥19.25M
5. Ji-Hee Lee ¥17.70M
6. Erina Hara ¥17.70M
7. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥11.05M
8. Ji-Woo Lee ¥11.04M
9. Julie Lu ¥7.32M
10. Bo-Bae Song ¥7.20M
11. Midori Yoneyama ¥6.82M
12. Kaori Aoyama ¥6.61M
13. Rui Kitada ¥5.74M
14. Miho Koga ¥5.19M
15. Hiromi Mogi ¥5.10M
16. Yukari Baba ¥4.95M
17. Yuri Fudoh ¥4.85M
18. Yuko Saitoh ¥4.79M
19. Shinobu Moromizato ¥4.47M
20. Nikki Campbell ¥4.34M
21. Tamie Durdin ¥4.25M
22. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥4.10M

Next up is the Fujisankei Ladies Classic, where Ji-Yai Shin will once again try to return to the JLPGA winner's circle.

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