Last June, I focused on the future of Japanese women's golf and while many of the players I profiled back then have struggled this season on the JLPGA, the first 1 I focused on--Mika Miyazato--has had a great year on the LPGA. Until recently, that is, when she had some bad finishes on courses that I thought she could have taken advantage of. Well, she's officially put that patch of turbulence behind her, as she's taken the lead at the halfway point of the JLPGA's 3rd major, the Japan Women's Open. Her bogey-free 68 was not only tied for the best round of the day, but it brought her to -9 through 36 holes and gave her a 3-shot cushion on the trio chasing her.
Where Mika-chan has made only 1 bogey thus far in the JWO, Bo-Bae Song has done her 1 better, in contrast to the mercurial Akiko Fukushima, who joins her at -6 despite making a double bogey yesterday and 3 bogeys today. But the player I'm most excited about in Miyazato's lead chase pack is Sakura Yokomine, who also shot a bogey-free 68 today. Yokomine was the hottest player on the JLPGA in the 1st half of the season and has been the best golfer on tour the last 2, yet she's never won a money title and trails Shinobu Moromizato this season by 1 win and just under 30 million yen.
Speaking of Moromizato, she kept her Grand Slam hopes alive today with a flurry of birdies on the back to get to -2 on her round and the tournament. But she's only T11 (with Eun-A Lim, Miki Saiki, and Rui Kitada, among others), as living legend Yuri Fudoh shot her 2nd-straight 70 and was joined at -4 by Yukari Baba, Nikki Campbell, and Saori Ikushima. But Moromizato's doing well to stay ahead of Momoko Ueda (-1, T17), Ai Miyazato, Miho Koga, Hyun-Ju Shin, and Ayako Uehara (E, T23), Chie Arimura, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Yuko Mitsuka (+1, T28), and Eun-Hee Ji and Ji-Hee Lee (+2, T33).
Many of Mikan's peers rallied to make the cut at +5, but Erina Hara, Maiko Wakabayashi, and Ritsuko Ryu were notable young victims of major pressure. And many of the players I was surprised to find at the top of the leaderboard yesterday fell to earth today, among them LPGA Q-School-bound Tamie Durdin (78, +2, T33) and yesterday's leader Mayumi Shimomura (75, -3, T9). Let's see if Mikan can avoid their fate this weekend!