Yui Kawahara has been hanging around all season on the JLPGA, missing a good deal of cuts but making enough money to stay comfortably within the top 50 on the money list, largely on the strength of 2 really good weeks--a T3 at the Meiji Chocolate Cup and a T4 at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic. Well, after opening with a bogey-free 66 in the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies today, she not only has given herself a chance for her 1st JLPGA win and entry into next week's season-ending major, the Ricoh Cup, but also for the best season of her career.
It's not going to be easy, though, as she's being chased by a host of talented golfers. Sun-Ju Ahn and Sakura Yokomine, 1-2 on the money list, may be stuck 4 shots back, but right behind Kawahara is none other than Akiko Fukushima, who's won once this year but is looking to improve on a season that could well turn out to be her worst of the 2000s. If it weren't for a walkoff bogey, she'd be co-leader with Kawahara. Also 1 shot behind are Yukari Baba, whose career season could be improved only by her 1st win since 2008, and Rui Kitada, who's looking to approach her 2004 campaign, when she got 3 of her 6 JLPGA wins and ended up 3rd on the money list.
But that's not nearly all. Shinobu Moromizato had a great chance to win last year's money-list title, but this season has been utterly disappointing by comparison; still, she's only 2 off the pace heading into the weekend and like Fukushima is eager for a little redemption at the end of the year. Ayako Uehara, who it seems has done everything but win this season, is also 2 back after a 6-birdie effort today. Tamie Durdin, having secured her 2011 JLPGA card just a little while ago, is also looking to move up the money list; her eagle-birdie finish also leaves her only 2 shots back. And former LPGAers Young Kim and Na Ri Kim, who have played solidly in their rookie campaigns on the JLPGA, are only 3 back; both are looking for their 1st wins on their new tour. LPGAer Teresa Lu is looking to duplicate Durdin's feat--she needs to make a lot of money this week to get into the top 50 on the money list and secure her JLPGA card for next season; currently, she's 4 off the pace, due to a disappointing bogey on the par-5 17th.
Here's how the top 10 and notables stand heading into the weekend:
1st/-6 Yui Kawahara (66)
T2/-5 Akiko Fukushima, Yukari Baba, Rui Kitada (67)
T5/-4 Shinobu Moromizato, Ayako Uehara, Tamie Durdin, Nobuko Kizawa (68)
T9/-3 Young Kim, Na-Ri Kim (69)
T11/-2 Sun-Ju Ahn, Sakura Yokomine, Bo-Bae Song, Teresa Lu, Na-Ri Lee, Hiromi Mogi, Ah-Reum Hwang, Kaori Aoyama, Jae-Hee Bae (70)
T22/-1 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Chie Arimura, Ji-Hee Lee, Hyun-Ju Shin, Erina Hara (71)
T32/E Shiho Oyama, Beatriz Recari, Miki Saiki, Akane Iijima, Mayu Hattori, Hiromi Takesue, Ritsuko Ryu (72)
T45/+1 Saiki Fujita, Eun-A Lim, Ji-Woo Lee, Yun-Jye Wei, Asako Fujimoto, Rikako Morita, Yuki Ichinose, Harukyo Nomura [a] (73)
T57/+2 Inbee Park, Maiko Wakabayashi, Onnarin Sattayabanphot (74)
T67/+3 Mie Nakata, Chieko Amanuma, Miho Mori [a] (75)
T76/+4 Nikki Campbell, So-Hee Kim, Li-Ying Ye (76)
T83/+5 Momoko Ueda, Haruka Morita [a] (77)
T90/+6 Yuko Mitsuka (78)
As you can see, not everyone did well today. Mitsuka's 78 puts her in danger of dropping out of the top 50 on the money list; Ueda's 77 in inexplicable; Park's 74 is completely out of character; and even 72s by the likes of Oyama, Recari, and Ito-En Ladies champion Saiki are let-downs.
So I guess the theme for tomorrow is "come-backs"! Fukushima, Moromizato, and Durdin are looking to turn disappointing seasons around. Kawahara, Uehara, and the Kims are looking to make this a season to remember. And the JLPGA's biggest names--Ahn, Yokomine, Jeon, Arimura, Lee, Oyama, Park, Campbell, Ueda, and Mitsuka--are looking to bounce back from disappointing 1st rounds. Let's see who can do it over the weekend!
[Update 1 (3:51 pm): Nice job by bangkokbobby with details on the most interesting rounds of the day and another set of awesome photos.]