What an unlikely finish to the Nishijin Ladies Classic this week on the JLPGA! Hometown girl Momoko Ueda had been cruising in the 1st and 2nd rounds, opening up a 2-shot lead on Ji-Yai Shin and Yuri Fudoh in the process. But her 2 top challengers today turned out to be LPGA young gun Inbee Park and JLPGA veteran Chieko Amanuma, who both turned it on over the final few holes, just as Ueda was falling apart. In the end, Park finally got that win she was so due for--in a playoff against Amanuma. But how everyone got there is a story in itself.
Even though Ueda got off to a slow start Sunday, with a bogey on her 2nd hole and no birdies on the front side, she still held a 1-shot lead on Shin and a 2-shot lead on Fudoh through 45 holes, thanks to an indifferent start by the former and 3 straight bogeys by the latter right after she had briefly taken the lead with a birdie on the 5th. Meanwhile, Inbee Park, who started the day 4 back at -4, was actually +1 through her 1st 8 holes, thanks to 3 bogeys between the 4th and 8th holes that offset her pair of birdies in her 1st 5 holes. But consecutive birdies on the 9th and 10th, a medium-length par 5 and a long par 4, brought her from 4 to 1 behind (when Ueda bogeyed the 10th).
Still, as Ueda played the 14th hole, she continued to have the tournament in hand. At -6, she held a 1-shot lead on Park and a 2-shot lead on Shin and Chieko Amanuma, who had hung around all day at -4. Fudoh had fallen further off the pace with a bogey on the long par 4 12th, a hole which had also stopped a run by Chie Arimura (she had been 3-under on her day and 4-under for the tournament until a bogey there heralded a +1 finish over her final 8 holes). And nobody else was within shouting distance.
First to strike was Amanuma. She birdied the 311-yard par-4 15th to get back to -5 for the tournament for the 1st time since she had birdied the par-3 3rd. Playing in the group behind Amanuma and Park, Ueda failed to match Shin's birdie the 15th. So Ueda and Shin stood at -6, and Amanuma and Park at -5. Amanuma and Park continued to apply pressure to the leaders on the 171-yard par-4 16th hole, as they both birdied it to create a 4-way tie at the top. Then Amanuma birdied her 3rd hole in a row, the 380-yard par-4 17th, to take the lead by herself. When Shin parred it and Ueda bogeyed it, they fell 1 and 2 shots behind, respectively. When Amanuma couldn't make it 4 in a row on the 470-yard par-5 18th, Park caught her at -7 with a birdie of her own. Once again, Shin parred and Ueda bogeyed.
Playoff time between Park and Amanuma! Could Park break the U.S. Women's Open jinx that had seen her lose her game for almost a year after her 2008 win and then repeatedly be denied entry into the winner's circle in the last half season on both the KLPGA and JLPGA? Could Amanuma get her 1st win since 2006 and take the first step toward matching her 2001, when she won 5 times and ended up 3rd on the JLPGA money list? Well, I'm waiting for a better report than from Kyodo News, which only tells that Park won the playoff, not how she did it.
While I'm waiting for more details to emerge, I'll pass along the final results for the top 10 and notables:
1st/-7 Inbee Park (69-71-69) [won in playoff]
2nd/-7 Chieko Amanuma (68-72)
3rd/-6 Ji-Yai Shin (68-70-72)
T4/-4 Asako Fujimoto (69-71-72), Momoko Ueda (67-69-76)
T6/-3 Rui Kitada (72-73-68), Chie Arimura (71-72-70), Hiromi Mogi (73-70-70), Yuri Fudoh (70-68-75)
T10/-2 Yukari Baba (72-73-69), Hyun-Ju Shin (70-74-70), Mayu Hattori (70-73-71)
13th/-1 Mie Nakata (69-74-72)
T14/E Tamie Durdin (74-70-72), Mika Miyazato (73-70-73), Sakura Yokomine (69-74-73), Saiki Fujita (69-73-74)
T19/+1 Ji-Hee Lee (73-74-70), Bo-Bae Song (75-71-71), Yuki Ichinose (74-69-74)
T22/+2 Sun-Ju Ahn (70-77-71), Yuko Mitsuka (74-72-72)
T25/+3 Seon Hwa Lee (69-76-74), Young Kim (72-72-75), Miki Saiki (72-72-75)
T32/+4 Ritsuko Ryu (75-72-73), Na-Ri Lee (71-73-76)
T35/+5 Esther Lee (74-72-75), So-Hee Kim (71-75-75)
T42/+7 Akiko Fukushima (75-73-75)
45th/+8 Mi-Jeong Jeon (75-71-78)
T46/+9 Li-Ying Ye (75-73-77)
53rd/+12 Eun-A Lim (74-74-80)
So a playoff loss last week and a playoff win this one, coupled with Sun Ju Ahn's 1st indifferent finish as a JLPGA member, bring Inbee Park to the top of the JLPGA money list.
1. Inbee Park ￥29.25M
2. Sun Ju Ahn ￥25.45M
3. Chie Arimura ￥20.72M
4. Rui Kitada ￥19.44M
5. Miho Koga ￥17.28M
6. Yun-Jye Wei ￥17.22M
7. Chieko Amanuma ￥10.88M
8. Kaori Aoyama ￥10.34M
9. Ji-Yai Shin ￥9.83M
10. Mie Nakata ￥9.37M
11. Sakura Yokomine ￥8.47M
12. Bo-Bae Song ￥8.23M
13. Ah-Reum Hwang ￥8.09M
14. Shinobu Moromizato ￥7.91M
15. Ji-Hee Lee ￥7.78M
16. Young Kim ￥7.50M
17. Asako Fujimoto ￥7.17M
18. Yukari Baba ￥7.35M
19. Hiroko Ayada ￥7.17M
20. Yuri Fudoh ￥6.84M
21. Yuko Mitsuka ￥6.79M
22. Hiromi Takesue ￥6.14M
23. Hiromi Mogi ￥5.88M
24. Momoko Ueda ￥5.84M
25. Ai Miyazato ￥5.40M
26. Eun-A Lim ￥4.85M
27. Junko Omote ￥4.75M
28. Ayako Uehara ￥4.66M
29. Akane Iijima ￥4.59M
30. Kaori Nakamura ￥4.20M
Fujimoto won't turn 20 until late May. It'll be interesting to see if she can maintain her position on the leaderboard over the course of the season. Same for veterans Kitada, Amanuma, and Nakata, who are off to better starts than most of the JLPGA's biggest names like Yokomine, Moromizato, Fudoh, Mitsuka, and Uehara. Off to terrible starts are Mi-Jeong, Ji-Hee Lee, Akiko Fukushima, and Erina Hara. But there's a long way to go!
Next week, all the usual suspects except Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda will be playing in the Fujisankei Ladies Classic. Mika Miyazato will be playing on the JLPGA, as well, but unlike Ji-Yai Shin, who will also be playing her 2nd week in a row on the tour, she's planning to fly to Mexico to join her namesake at the LPGA's Tres Marias Championship. It's looking like Ueda and Shin won't be joining them there, although I can't find a field list for the Cyber-Agent event on the JLPGA just yet. Ai-sama and Momo-chan are on the field list for the JLPGA's 1st major the following week, the Salonpas Cup. Interesting how players with dual membership put together their schedules, isn't it?