The Mizuno Classic began with a bang today in Mie prefecture as 19 players broke 70, lead by world #1 Ji-Yai Shin and the JLPGA's Yukari Baba, who opened with 65s to take a 1-shot lead on Morgan Pressel into the weekend. Shin, playing with defending champion Bo-Bae Song (71) and JLPGA top gun Sakura Yokomine (69) in the last threesome off the front, birdied her 1st 4 holes in a row to open with a bogey-free 31, then followed that feat up with 4 more birdies and only 2 bogeys on a back 9 that was the ruin of many a golfer today. In so doing, Shin matched Baba's 8-birdie 65 that began far from the prime-time pairings on the back 9 at 8:20 am--even though the veteran has been having the best year of her career, with 3 silvers and 5 bronzes in 29 starts raising her to 4th on the JLPGA money list despite the lack of a win in 2010. Meanwhile, Pressel was playing with Ai Miyazato (72) and Katherine Hull (68) and closed with a bogey-free 31 on the back just as Miyazato was stumbling to a birdieless 38 and Hull was rolling to a bogey-free 34. Pressel, who won the JLPGA's 1st major back in May, is looking like a force to be reckoned with this week, as well.
Not so the former world #1, who started the tournament with an eagle on the 505-yard par-5 1st hole, but made 15 pars and 2 bogeys the rest of the way. But, then, making an eagle was no guarantee of a good round today--and making 2 in a row, apparently was the kiss of death. Just ask Hee Young Park, who was -4 after accomplishing just such a feat on the 410-yard par-4 6th and 485-yard par-5 7th, but went +5 over her last 11 holes, topped off by a double bogey on the par-3 17th. No wonder her nickname is The Rocket! Another player whose rounds resemble roller-coaster rides, Sophie Gustafson, eagled the 495-yard par-5 13th and followed it up with a birdie, but proceeded to give it all away over the last 13 holes of her round and ended up with a 72. The much steadier Song-Hee Kim eagled the 1st hole before Ai Miyazato even started her own round with a similar feat, but ended up with a 71 that was overshadowed by playing partners Mika Miyazato (68) and Stacy Lewis (69). Even Seon Hwa Lee's hole in 1 on the 17th only helped her to a 70 because she scattered 3 bogeys to start her day on the back. Don't even ask about Gwladys Nocera, who was the 1st player of the day to eagle her 1st hole--a double and 7 bogeys later and she posted one of the worst score of the day, a 76.
On the other hand, some players were able to use their eagles to put themselves in contention, including the last player on the front to open her round with an eagle, Ya Ni Tseng, who followed it up with a birdie, stumbled a bit in the middle of her round, but birdied 2 of her last 6 holes to post a 69. Even more impressively, Miki Saiki birdied 3 of her last 4 holes on the back, then turned to the front and followed up a 4th-hole birdie with a 7th-hole eagle to post a 67, matching Chie Arimura (who also eagled the 7th) and Karine Icher (who eagled the 13th). They were joined by the hottest player in the world of women's golf, Na Yeon Choi, whose round was highlighted by a 3-hole birdie train to start her round and 5 birdies in her 1st 13 holes, and Meena Lee, who opened with a bogey-free 32 on the back. Arimura's walkoff bogey ensured that Choi would be the only player in the field to fire a bogey-free round today. Let's see if she can become the 1st LPGAer to win 2 straight events since Ai-sama did so to kick off the season.
But Choi will have to watch out for the woman who tops the JLPGA money list. A walkoff bogey left Sun-Ju Ahn only 1 shot behind her and 3 shots off the lead, tied with Malaysia champion Jimin Kang and ex-LPGAer Young Kim. Inbee Park, Ahn's only conceivable rival for JLPGA Rookie of the Year, didn't fare so well, offsetting her 3 birdies with 3 bogeys, and, like Ai-sama, Shinobu Moromizato, and LPGA Rookie of the Year shoo-in Azahara Munoz, putting herself in a position where she'll need to go super-low over the weekend to get back in contention.
I don't see any of the leaders backing up over the next 36 holes. Let's see if anyone can chase them down this weekend! Metaphorically speaking, that is.
[Update 1 (4:47 am): Check out the LPGA's tweets for a sense of how the action unfolded in real-time.]
[Update 2 (4:51 am): Good notes and interviews at LPGA.com. One irony I noticed in the fact that Seon Hwa Lee won 3 million yen for her ace is that she almost earned as much in that 1 swing as in her 7 previous JLPGA starts.]
[Update 3 (5:50 am): Shanshan Feng, Bo-Mee Lee, Tao Li Yang, Yuki Sakurai, Sakurako Mori, and Da E Na were probably the biggest names to play well during the 2nd stage of JLPGA Q-School. Feng is the 1st LPGAer to commit to skipping the LPGA Tour Championship to seek dual LPGA-JLPGA membership for 2011. With players who finished 21st to 50th on last year's LPGA money list eligible to enter the 3rd stage (11/23-11/25) and anyone from the top 20 eligible to enter the Final Qualifying Tournament (11/30-12/3), it'll be interesting to see who joins her. We won't know if Na Zhang, Riko Higashio, or Ji Na Lim will move on until after 11/21, when we'll know how many JLPGAers who lost their cards plan to enter the 3rd stage.]
[Update 4 (6:18 am): Some neat pairings for moving day. Former champions Karrie Webb and Bo-Bae Song are 1st off the 1st. Eagle girls Ai Miyazato and Sophie Gustafson start on the back at 9:15 am. The high-powered trio of Hee Young Park, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Ji-Hee Lee follow them at 9:35. And then, of course, there's the sub-70 set to close out the front-side starters:
Start Time: 9:55 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Start Time: 10:05 AM
Start Time: 10:15 AM
Start Time: 10:25 AM
Na Yeon Choi
Start Time: 10:35 AM
Start Time: 10:45 AM
[Update 5 (2:41 pm): Nice quick overview by Hound Dog.]