Akiko Fukushima may have won almost 900 million yen in her distinguished JLPGA career, 2nd only to the legendary Yuri Fudoh, but she's been missing in action for most of 2011, with only 1 top 10 (dating back before Japan's devastating earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accidents) and 4 missed cuts in 11 previous starts, including her last 2 in a row. Good thing for her she's a 4-time champion at the NEC Karuizawa 72, with her 1st coming in 1996 and her latest in 2007. That last one must have seemed like yesterday today, as she opened with 5 birdies in her 1st 9 holes and ended up with a bogey-free 66 that gave her a 2-shot lead on 3 golfers, most notably JLPGA money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn.
But Fukushima was not the only struggling golfer to be rejuvenated in Nagano. Mi-Jeong Jeon and Tamie Durdin shot 69s, Na-Ri Kim and Nikki Campbell 70s, and Yuko Mitsuka a 71. With Sakura Yokomine and Ji-Yai Shin joining Mitsuka 5 shots off the lead, and last week's winner Shanshan Feng another shot back, along with defending champion Ji-Hee Lee, Fukushima has a great chance tomorrow to put some distance between herself and her lead chase pack. Let's review who they are:
1st/-6 Akiko Fukushima (66)
T2/-4 Sun-Ju Ahn, Nachiyo Ohtani, Asuka Tsujimura (68)
T5/-3 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Tamie Durdin, Asako Fujimoto (69)
T8/-2 Shinobu Moromizato, Na-Ri Kim, Nikki Campbell, Mayu Hattori, Esther Lee, Yoshimi Koda, Chiharu Tsunekawa, Mihoko Takahashi, Yuko Fukuda (70)
T17/-1 Ji-Yai Shin, Sakura Yokomine, Yuko Mitsuka, Yukari Baba, Hyun-Ju Shin, Saiki Fujita, Rikako Morita, Ritsuko Ryu, Pei-Ying Tsai (71)
T28/E Ji-Hee Lee, Miho Koga, Shanshan Feng, Bo-Bae Song, Kaori Aoyama, Megumi Kido, Miki Uehara, Jae-Hee Bae, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Lala Anai (72)
T42/+1 Shiho Oyama, Chie Arimura, Bo-Mee Lee, Teresa Lu, Young Kim, Rui Kitada, Ayako Uehara, Akane Iijima, Kumiko Kaneda, Na-Ri Lee, Yun-Jye Wei, Li-Ying Ye, Ah-Reum Hwang, Julie Lu, Junko Omote (73)
T63/+2 Soo-Yun Kang, Mie Nakata, Ji-Woo Lee, Eun-Bi Jang, Maiko Wakabayashi, Yuki Sakurai (74)
T75/+3 Eun-A Lim, So-Hee Kim, Ji-Na Lim, Erika Kikuchi (75)
T85/+4 Momoko Ueda, Kaori Ohe, Mika Takushima, Miki Sakai (76)
T91/+5 Yumiko Yoshida, Erina Yamato (77)
T97/+6 Yuki Ichinose, Mai Arai (78)
T101/+7 Erina Hara, Aiko Ueno (79)
As you can see, it wasn't all fun and games for everyone in the field. Momoko Ueda's in serious danger of missing her 3rd cut in only her 8th JLPGA start in 2011. We'll need to see some great rounds from the likes of Ji-Hee Lee, Chie Arimura, Teresa Lu, and Bo-Mee Lee just to have a hope of getting into contention on Sunday.