Last year, Erina Hara put on a clinic at the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies, going 67-63-65 for a 7-shot victory over Ji-Hee Lee. This year, with every single one of the JLPGA's finest in the field, not to mention irregulars Ai Miyazato (fresh from her breakthrough win at Evian and T3 at the Women's British Open), Momoko Ueda (coming off last week's win on tour), and Mika Miyazato (in the midst of a fantastic rookie season on the LPGA), could a struggling Hara replicate last year's feat?
With bogeys on 3 of her 1st 5 holes and 2 of her last 4, and only 2 birdies all day as she closed out the front, the answer for Hara is a resounding "no," thanks to her opening 75. But seeing as how she beat Mika Miyazato by a shot, finished only 2 strokes behind the tour's #1 golfer, Sakura Yokomine, who shot a birdieless 38 on the back to open with a 73, and only did 3 shots worse than last year's co-leader after the 1st round and eventual leading money winner on tour Miho Koga, it's not like all is lost for Hara. Still, she did dig herself a 9-shot hole on leader Chie Arimura, who's coming off a win and a runner-up her last 2 events and hasn't finished outside the top 25 on tour since the 3rd event of the season. Arimura went 33-33 and was joined in shooting bogey-less rounds by Mi-Jeong Jeon (67), Yuko Mitsuka (69), and Yukari Baba (69). Yuki Sakurai had one going until her final hole, which she doubled for a 71. Among the other players with only 1 bad hole, Shinobu Moromizato (68), Rui Kitada (69), and Momoko Ueda (70) stand out. Like Ueda, Ai Miyazato birdied 2 of her last 5 holes, but she did it to salvage a 72 after a slow start.
Here's how the top 10 and notables fared:
1st/-6 Chie Arimura (66)
2nd/-5 Mi-Jeong Jeon (67)
T3/-4 Shinobu Moromizato, Hiroko Fukushima (68)
T5/-3 Yuko Mitsuka, Rui Kitada, Yukari Baba, Tomoko Kusakabe (69)
T9/-2 Momoko Ueda, Michie Ohba, Ikuyo Shiotani, Nozomi Sato (70)
T13/-1 Ji-Hee Lee, Yuri Fudoh, Eun-A Lim, Akiko Fukushima, Midori Yoneyama, Yuki Sakurai (71)
T23/E Ai Miyazato, Miho Koga, So-Hee Kim (72)
T31/+1 Sakura Yokomine, Hyun-Ju Shin, Ji-Woo Lee, Hiromi Mogi, Nikki Campbell, Saiki Fujita, Da-Ye Na, Yun-Jye Wei (73)
T46/+2 Yuko Saitoh, Rikako Morita, Tamie Durdin, Ah-Reum Hwang, Kumiko Kaneda, Yuki Ichinose (74)
T57/+3 Erina Hara, Li-Ying Ye, Miki Saiki, Akane Iijima (75)
T72/+4 Mika Miyazato, Ayako Uehara, Maiko Wakabayashi, Na-Ri Lee, Esther Lee, Mayu Hattori (76)
T85/+5 Bo-Bae Song (77)
T99/+7 Woo-Soon Ko (79)
With the #2 and #3 players on the money list looking to keep their leads on the #4 Arimura and make up ground on Yokomine, the #5 player only 3 off the lead, and Momoko Ueda, Ji-Hee Lee (who's coming off 2 straight runner-ups herself), and Ai Miyazato, among many others, lurking, it's shaping up to be a very special weekend on the JLPGA. Stay tuned!
[Update 1 (4:31 am): If Shiho Oyama's neck injury heals in time, she'll be playing next week on the JLPGA at the CAT Ladies. But it's looking like the Miyazatos and Ueda will be heading back to the States early to prepare for the Safeway Classic and Canadian Women's Open. I haven't seen a field list for the Konica Minolta Cup the following week, but there's a good chance the top 2 Japanese players will skip the NW Arkansas event for the JLPGA's 2nd major, where they both got top 10s last season. But they may well be back on the west coast for the Samsung Championship and the CVS/Pharmacy LPGA Challenge before playing in the Japan Women's Open (sorry, Navistar, their presence in the JLPGA's 3rd major is confirmed). If they decide to play in Korea and end up qualifying for Lorena's invitational (Ai-sama's probably a lock), they could play out the last 4 LPGA events (including the Mizuno Classic) and still make it to the JLPGA's last major, assuming Ai-sama qualifies for it (Ueda's win means she's in!). So it's looking like they'll be playing at most 8 of the last 10 LPGA events this season. Ai-sama will really have to do well in them to have a chance at Player of the Year! I'm disappointed they won't be playing next week's event, but jet lag is nothing to fool around with and they're going to be dealing with plenty of it in September. At least they have the option of playing up to 4 more JLPGA events in October--silver lining to the China event's at-best-postponed status--although playing in all of them would mean skipping Korea (as they have done historically).]
[Update 2 (5:05 pm): Lot of LPGA stars playing on the KLPGA this week. Happy Fan has all the key details. Kyeong Bae is 1 shot off the lead, shared by Ha Neul Kim, Sun Ju Ahn, and Bo Mee Lee.]