Several players went low today at the Suntory Ladies Open, and for awhile, it looked like Ai Miyazato would be one of them. She birdied her 1st 2 holes after sticking her approach shots on each, then made another pair of birdies on the par-3 6th and par-4 7th to get to -2. But the putts stopped dropping after that. Despite a handful of good chances for birdie the rest of the way, Ai-chan ended up with her 2nd straight 70, thanks to a bogey on the par-5 12th. Although many great JLPGA players did worse than her, including several of yesterday's leaders who moved in the wrong direction on moving day, there are still 28 players ahead of her, and it doesn't look like many of those who have put 2 or 3 good rounds together will falter in the final round.
Maiko Wakabayashi hasn't finished worse than 6th her last 2 events and will be looking for her 2nd career win in the final group tomorrow, thanks to a bogey-free 67 that could have been much better. She just couldn't get the ball to drop over her last 4 holes when the cameras came on, but she's swinging the club wonderfully and giving herself a lot of birdie chances. I didn't get to see any of Chie Arimura's 2nd-straight 68, which included 4 birdies in her last 7 holes that brought her to -7, 2 shots behind Wakabayashi, not to mention Li-Ying Ye's 3 birdies over that same stretch that pulled her into a tie for 4th, but I did see a lot of Shinobu Moromizato's 69 and Rikako Morita's 71. Both were hitting the ball a long way, but Morita's irons were a little loose and her putting couldn't save her from a +1 finish over her last 5 holes to drop into a tie with Ye, Rui Kitada, and Hiromi Mogi at -6. But she definitely has a lot of potential. She has a very upright backswing and really attacks the ball on her downswing. Moromizato's swing is a little flatter, but still pretty powerful. Her bogey-free 69 was a little bit of a letdown, though, as she parred her last 10 holes despite giving herself a ton of birdie chances. Still, she's only 1 shot behind Wakabayashi and in great position to get her 2nd win of 2009.
As a result of the leaders' solid-to-excellent golf, it was difficult for those back in the pack to make up ground on them, despite making nice moves up the leaderboard. A walk-off bogey was the only thing keeping Ji-Hee Lee out of solo 8th place; as it was, her 68 brought her within shouting distance of the lead at -4. But Yuki Sakurai's 68 only brought her to T22 at -2. The hottest player on the JLPGA, Sakura Yokomine, made 6 birdies in her round, but could only manage a 70. Joining her in the top 10 were Bo-Bae Song and Na-Ri Lee, who had fine 69s today, with good recoveries from rocky starts to their back 9s.
Here's how the top 10 and notables stand after round 3:
1st/-9 Maiko Wakabayashi (72-68-67)
2nd/-8 Shinobu Moromizato (69-70-69)
3rd/-7 Chie Arimura (73-68-68)
T4/-6 Li-Ying Ye (74-68-68), Hiromi Mogi (73-68-69), Rui Kitada (72-68-70), Rikako Morita (69-70-71)
T8/-4 Ji-Hee Lee (73-71-68), Bo-Bae Song (74-69-69), Na-Ri Lee (72-71-69), Sakura Yokomine (71-71-70), Saiki Fujita (73-67-72), Ha-Na Jang (68-71-73)
T14/-3 Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-73-70), Nikki Campbell (70-69-74)
T22/-2 Yuki Sakurai (74-72-68), Mai Arai (73-72-69), Yuko Mitsuka (71-73-70), Tamie Durdin (75-67-72), Na Zhang (70-69-75),
T29/-1 Ai Miyazato (75-70-70), Mie Nakata (73-71-71), Kumiko Kaneda (73-71-71), Ayako Uehara (69-75-71), Akane Iijima (74-69-72)
T36/E Akiko Fukushima (73-71-72), Yuki Ichinose (67-76-73)
T40/+1 Ah-Reum Hwang (76-70-71), Miho Koga (75-70-72), Yuri Fudoh (72-73-72)
T45/+2 Eun-A Lim (75-70-73)
T48/+3 Hiroko Yamaguchi (74-72-73)
T50/+4 Yukari Baba (68-76-76)
T57/+6 Mayu Hattori (75-70-77)
With 13 players with a legitimate chance to win tomorrow, it's not just going to be a battle between Wakabayashi, Moromizato, and Arimura in the final pairing. But they certainly have a chance to pull away from the field early in the final round. I'm hoping the high-wattage pairing of Miyazato, Na Zhang, and Kumiko Kaneda can make some noise starting at 9:15 am. It'll also be interesting to see if the 8:35 pairing of Yuri Fudoh and Miho Koga produces a lot of birdies. Looking forward to seeing the ending live--thank you, Chiba TV!