The long wait is over for Sakura Yokomine! Thanks to her dramatic victory at the Ricoh Cup today, she won the money-list title for the 1st time in her career after finishing no worse than 4th in every season since 2005--and broke the record held by Shiho Oyama for most winnings in a single season in the process. Her 69 was the lowest round of the day, but it almost wasn't enough for her 6th victory of 2009. Here's how the final round played out.
3rd-round leader Akane Iijima started off slow, opening the door to the rest of the field instead of building on her 3-shot lead at the start of the day. By the time she reached the 6th tee, she had slipped from -8 to -6. Her playing partner, Mayu Hattori, could only make up a single stroke, as she was +1 over that same opening stretch. Would the money-list leader Shinobu Moromizato, playing with Bo-Bae Song in the group behind the leaders, take advantage of their struggles? No, as she needed a pair of birdies to close out the front just to offset her +2 start through 7. Song herself birdied the par-5 9th to salvage a 37, but when Iijima matched her birdie, Song was 4 back with 9 to play. So who was putting pressure on Iijima on the front? Ji-Hee Lee, starters. She got to -5 for the tournament when she matched Moromizato's feat of closing consecutive birdies on the front to take solo 2nd. Ai Miyazato joined Hattori and Moromizato at -4 through 9 with her birdies on the 6th and 9th. And even though Yokomine bogeyed the 6th, her birdies to start and end the front put her into the big group tied for 3rd.
Things started to heat up as the leaders made the turn. Miyazato, playing several groups before everyone else got it to -6 with birdies on the short par-3 12th and short par-5 13th. Hattori joined her with birdies on the short par-4 10th and short par-5 11th. And Lee made it a threesome 1 shot behind Iijima with a birdie of her own on 11. So when Iijima responded with a bogey on 13, we had a 4-way tie for 1st at -6. Moromizato was 1 back, thanks to her birdie on 12, while even Song climbed back into serious contention when she birdied 13. At that point, she was tied with Yokomine and Momoko Ueda, who had bounced back from a pair of bogeys at 8 and 9 with birdies on 10, 11, and 13 to return to -4. Song would quickly drop out of contention with a double bogey on the very next hole, but could Ueda, who had lead the 1st 2 rounds, end up with the win?
No, she parred out the rest of the way to become the 1st player in the field to end the tournament at -4. Playing in the group after her, her LPGA compatriot Miyazato bogeyed 16 and 18 (her 3rd time in the tournament) to join her. It was the story of Ai-sama's season following her breakthrough win at the Evian Masters: for yet another week, she played well enough to put herself in serious contention (as she did at the Women's British Open, the Safeway Classic, the Canadian Women's Open, Samsung World Championship, the Japan Women's Open, the Fujitsu Ladies, and the LPGA Tour Championship), but not quite well enough to tack on another JLPGA victory in 2009 to her 1st on tour since 2006, at the Sankyo Ladies.
Next on deck was Sakura Yokomine, and she responded with birdies on the long par-4 14th and 15th to get to -6 overall. Now she was only 1 behind Iijima, who had birdied 14 herself to return to -7. Hattori, though, bogeyed 15, as did Moromizato in the group before her and Lee in the group before Moromizato. The money-list leader was now 3 back, while Hattori and Lee were 2 behind Iijima. Moromizato would catch them at -5 with a birdie on the short par-4 17th, and when Iijima responded with bogeys at 16 and 17, all of a sudden all of them needed to birdie the long par-4 18th to get into a playoff with Yokomine, who ended her season with 3 straight pars to take leader in the clubhouse from Ueda and Miyazato. First up was Lee: par. Next was Moromizato: par. And finally Hattori and Iijima took their shots: par, par. Just like that, Yokomine had won!
1st/-6 Sakura Yokomine (69-71-73-69)
T2/-5 Ji-Hee Lee (72-70-71-70), Shinobu Moromizato (73-69-70-71), Mayu Hattori (75-68-68-72), Akane Iijima (74-69-65-75)
T6/-4 Ai Miyazato (74-69-71-70), Momoko Ueda (69-70-75-70)
8th/-3 Yukari Baba (72-68-74-71)
T9/-2 Chie Arimura (73-70-71-72), Miho Koga (71-71-71-73)
11th/E Bo-Bae Song (73-71-68-76)
T12/+1 Miki Saiki (74-71-69-75), Eun-A Lim (70-73-71-75)
14th/+2 Mi-Jeong Jeon (72-70-74-74)
15th/+3 Nikki Campbell (73-73-71-74)
T16/+5 Tamie Durdin (72-75-77-69), Akiko Fukushima (76-74-73-70)
18th/+6 Ayako Uehara (72-75-72-75)
19th/+8 Rui Kitada (76-72-77-71)
20th/+9 Ah-Reum Hwang (72-76-74-75)
T21/+10 Yuri Fudoh (78-77-73-71), Yuko Saitoh (77-72-75-75)
23rd/+19 Erina Hara (70-80-76-81)
Some huge disappointments for the JLPGA's top Korean players down the stretch. Mi-Jeong Jeon had fought back to -2 through 11 and given herself a chance to get in the mix, but bogeyed 13, 16, 17, and 18 to drop all the way out of the top 10. Song followed up her double with bogeys on 15 and 18. Lim finished 1 worse, with a double on 15 and a bogey on 18. Even co-runner-up Lee played her last 7 holes of birdieless golf in +1. So there's definitely some unfinished business for Team Korea heading into next week's Kyoraku Cup. At least they outplayed half of Team Japan. We'll see how much gas they have left at the end of a long season soon.
Here's the season-ending money list. Since #26 through #50 are the same as last week, I'll simply list the top 25 on the JLPGA in 2009 here:
1. Sakura Yokomine ￥175.02M
2. Shinobu Moromizato ￥165.26M
3. Chie Arimura ￥140.80M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ￥127.29M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ￥89.79M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ￥79.70M
7. Bo-Bae Song ￥72.92M
8. Miho Koga ￥72.11M
9. Yukari Baba ￥60.06M
10. Nikki Campbell ￥50.67M
11. Eun-A Lim ￥47.77M
12. Ayako Uehara ￥47.30M
13. Akiko Fukushima ￥46.56M
14. Ai Miyazato ￥46.43M
15. Mayu Hattori ￥44.48M
16. Yuko Saitoh ￥44.33M
17. Yuri Fudoh ￥43.98M
18. Miki Saiki ￥43.33M
19. Rui Kitada ￥43.00M
20. Akane Iijima ￥42.63M
21. Momoko Ueda ￥42.38M
22. Ah-Reum Hwang ￥40.09M
23. Tamie Durdin ￥37.77M
24. Ji-Yai Shin ￥37.42M
25. Erina Hara ￥35.26M
Depending on how exchange rates worked out, Ai-sama may well have broken the $2M mark in season winnings on the LPGA and JLPGA. I expect great things from her in 2010. And I wonder if Yokomine will be aiming to join her, Ueda, Shiho Oyama, Mika Miyazato, Bo-Bae Song, and hopefully after next week Yuko Mitsuka as dual LPGA-JLPGA members next season--or whether Yokomine will decide to play Yuri Fudoh to Ai-sama's Ayako Okamoto? Lots of intriguing questions for 2010, including how many LPGA regulars will join Miyazato, Ueda, and Oyama as JLPGA irregulars. We'll know by the end of next week, when both the LPGA's and JLPGA's Q-Schools will have been completed. So stay tuned--the regular season is over for all professional women's tours but the LET, but there are still some important questions to be answered.
[Update 1 (6:39 am): Koumei Oda just made it 2 Casio World Opens in a row with a closing 65 to beat money-list leader Ryo Ishikawa by 3 shots. While Oda became the 3rd player on the JGTO to break the 100 million yen barrier, Ryo-kun extended his lead on Yuta Ikeda to almost 20 million yen. With 1 event left to play, and 40 million yen for its winner, it'll come down to Ishikawa and Ikeda next week at the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup.]
[Update 2 (6:54 am): Thanks to reader John for his link to a youtube clip from the end of the tournament:
[Update 3 (7:03 am): There are also highlight clips from the evening news in Japan on youtube. This one shows Yokomine's chip-in for birdie on 14, near-eagle on 15 after her approach shot got a perfect bounce out of the rough just short of the hole, and sliding 7-footer to save par on 18, along with Moromizato's and Iijima's missed birdie putts from over 20 and 15 feet, respectively:
But I have to admit to liking the slide show by a fan that reduces the action over last 6 holes to under 10 minutes with shots from the TV coverage itself even better:
Let's see what else Yokomine's fans come up with!]