Akiko Fukushima has had an interesting career. A dominant player on the JLPGA in the mid-to-late-'90s, she tried her hand on the LPGA for a while, was fairly successful but decided she didn't like it, and ran into the Yuri Fudoh buzzsaw when she returned to Japan. She went from being in the top 5 on the JLPGA money list 5 years running, including 2 straight years at the top, to only getting 1 top 5 in the next 11 seasons. Still, she's held her position at #2 on the JLPGA career money list (behind Fudoh, of course) for a long time and got a win every year last decade except 2005 and 2009. But 2010 has been her worst season since, well, maybe ever. 0 top 10s, only 2 weeks when she managed to get and stay under par thus far, the worst scoring average of her career--I could go on. Suffice to say it's been a nightmare on the course. Which is why it's so cool that she opened the Meiji Chocolate Cup with a bogey-free 66 to take a 1-shot lead on Eun-A Lim, who matched Fukushima's 32 on the back while even making a bogey down the stretch. With the top JLPGAers battling Oakmont at the U.S. Women's Open, I can't think of a better story than a Fukushima win--unless it's a Fukushima-Fudoh showdown, just like the old days. And with Fudoh firing a 4-birdie 69, that's entirely possible.
Another great story would be the return of Erina Hara, whose 2010 thus far makes Fukushima's look like a masterpiece. She, too, opened with a 4-birdie 69. And last week's winner Hyun-Ju Shin is only 5 behind Fukushima.
Come to think of it, there are a lot of great potential stories here. It'll be interesting to see who makes which one of them into reality. While we wait to find out what happens next, here are the top 10 and notables:
1st/-6 Akiko Fukushima (66)
2nd/-5 Eun-A Lim (67)
T3/-4 Yukari Baba, Ji-Woo Lee, Yui Kawahara (68)
T6/-3 Yuri Fudoh, Rui Kitada, Hiromi Mogi, Rikako Morita, Ah-Reum Hwang, Erina Hara, Namika Omata (69)
T14/-2 Maiko Wakabayashi, Ritsuko Ryu, Yuki Ichinose (70)
T20/-1 Ji-Hee Lee, Mayu Hattori, Asako Fujimoto, Ayako Uehara, Hyun-Ju Shin, Mie Nakata, Saiki Fujita (71)
T30/E Miho Koga, Akane Iijima, Bo-Bae Song, Yun-Jye Wei, Na-Ri Lee, Li-Ying Ye (72)
T46/+1 Nikki Campbell, Kaori Aoyama, So-Hee Kim, Esther Lee, Jae-Hee Bae, Na-Ri Kim (73)
T61/+2 Miki Saiki (74)
T77/+3 Young Kim (75)
Would sure love to see Koga and Song get it going this week, too. Uehara had it going--an eagle on the 9th gave her a 32 on the front--but she shot a 39 on the back instead. Young Kim, by the way, also eagled the 9th, but it was the only hole where she posted a red number all day.