The organizers of the JLPGA's 1st major, the Salonpas Cup, sure know how to put together a "World Ladies Championship"!
Exhibit A: Just after high noon, Rolex Rankings #3 Ai Miyazato (.18 points behind new #1 Ji-Yai Shin), #4 Ya Ni Tseng (.68 back), and #25 Morgan Pressel started the back 9 at Ibaraki Golf Club's West Course together.
Exhibit B: About a half-hour earlier, #19 Hee Kyung Seo (a KLPGA superstar who's already won on the LPGA this year), #22 Ji-Hee Lee (a JLPGA regular), and #26 Momoko Ueda (formerly a JLPGA and now an LPGA regular) had gone off the same side.
Exhibit C: Sandwiched in between them were #20 Shinobu Moromizato, #23 Sophie Gustafson, and #30 Eun-Hee Ji.
Exhibit D: The 2 hottest golfers on the JLPGA this season, Inbee Park (#1 on the money list) and Sun-Ju Ahn (#2), were given an opportunity to make an early statement from the last group off the 1st tee in the morning tee times.
So how did everyone do? Well, Park got off to a hot start with 3 birdies in her 1st 6 holes, but after following them up with 4 straight pars she stumbled with 4 bogeys in her next 6 holes. A birdie-par finish ruighted her ship, but by then the damage had been done. She had to settle for an even-par 72. Playing partner Ahn had an even better start and a worse finish. She bounced back from an early bogey with an eagle on the par-5 5th, then followed it up with birdies on 7 and 10 to join Park at -3. But she proceeded to make 5 bogeys in her last 8 holes, including her last 3 in a row, to fall back to +2 for the round and the tournament. That's still 2 shots better than Ji, who fought back from a 38 on the back with back-to-back birdies early on the front, but finished bogey-bogey-par-double for a disappointing 76. And it's 3 shots better than Seo, who never got it going today. She opened with a birdie-less 39 on the back and followed up her lone birdie of the day (on the par-5 5th) with 3 straight bogeys on the back to balloon to a 77. Playing partner Lee did have it going for most of the day, having gotten to -2 with 1 hole to play despite making a bogey on each side, but she doubled the par-4 9th to join Park at E.
So if the highly-ranked Koreans in the field had tough days, how did everyone else do? Well, Tseng engineered a 3-shot swing on Lee on the 9th with a walkoff birdie and became the 3rd player in the field to break 70. She sits 1 shot behind Mayu Hattori (who's already won on the JLPGA this season) and Mihoko Iseri (a Cinderella whom I don't expect to be around the top of the leaderboard on the weekend). Ueda and Pressel brought the total number of players under par after the 1st round to 10 when they put together 71s. But Miyazato endured a 4-birdie, 8-bogey 76 to find herself 8 shots out of the lead and in danger of missing the cut tomorrow. And Gustafson did worse, finishing bogey-bogey-double for her 77.
Given that the top-ranked JLPGA regulars also had lots of trouble today, the international players shouldn't feel too bad. Last year's money-list queen Sakura Yokomine was paired with this year's top Japanese player on tour, Chie Arimura, who had a chance to win last year's money title in the final round of the season. Yokomine opened with a birdie-less 39 and despite making 2 birdies on the front closed with her 4th bogey of the day for her 74. Arimura, meanwhile, had 1 of the worst rounds of her career, following up an early double with 5 straight bogeys (and 7 over an 8-hole stretch) on her way to a jaw-dropping 82. Last year's #2 player, Shinobu Moromizato, was actually the low player in her group thanks to an eagle on the par-5 5th that salvaged a 75 for her. When the #1 and #2 players on the JLPGA's career money list, Yuri Fudoh and Akiko Fukushima, also opened with matching 75s, you know the course was playing tough and the scoring conditions were much less than optimal.
Tomorrow's a new day. Here's how the top 10 and notables stand heading into it:
T1/-4 Mayu Hattoru, Mihoko Iseri (68)
3rd/-3 Ya Ni Tseng (69)
T4/-2 Eun-A Lim, Mie Nakata, Miki Saiki, Na-Ri Lee (70)
T8/-1 Momoko Ueda, Morgan Pressel, Bo-Bae Song (71)
T11/E Inbee Park, Ji-Hee Lee, Teresa Lu, Hyun-Ju Shin, Ritsuko Ryu (72)
T16/+1 Seon Hwa Lee, Hiromi Mogi, Nikki Campbell, Erina Hara, Yun-Jye Wei, Esther Lee (73)
T26/+2 Sakura Yokomine, Sun-Ju Ahn, Miho Koga, Rui Kitada, Young Kim, Maiko Wakabayashi, Tamie Durdin, Rikako Morita (74)
T40/+3 Yuri Fudoh, Akiko Fukushima, Shinobu Moromizato, Akane Iijima, Ji-Woo Lee (75)
T50/+4 Ai Miyazato, Eun-Hee Ji, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ayako Uehara, Ah-Reum Hwang, Na-Ri Kim, Yuki Ichinose (76)
T65/+5 Hee Kyung Seo, Sophie Gustafson, Li-Ying Ye, Jae-Hee Bae (77)
T74/+6 Yukari Baba, Saiki Fujita (78)
T85/+7 Kaori Aoyama (79)
T90/+8 So-Hee Kim (80)
T100/+10 Chie Arimura (82)
T108/+12 Asako Fujimoto (84)
WD Yuko Mitsuka