The leaderboard of the JLPGA's 2nd major, the Konica Minolta Cup, is already packed with both talent and fascinating stories. Living legend Yuri Fudoh, who's already won twice in 12 starts on tour this year, caught fire midway through her round--making 4 birdies in a row to start the back 9--and capped off her 67 with a birdie on the par-5 17th hole. Almost at the exact same time, Yuko Mitsuka, who's been in the JLPGA wilderness since volunteering to self-exile herself from the tour for almost half of last season after a very public meltdown and challenge to tournament officials at last May's Salonpas Cup, was putting the finishing touches on her own bogey-free 67 with 3 birdies on the front to go with her 2 birdies from earlier in the round on the back. It would be quite a story if Mitsuka, who used to be among the best players on tour but is now stuck at 75th on this year's money list, and Fudoh, who's no longer the dominant player she was from 2000-2005 but is still capable of winning any given week, were to be duking it out all week.
But Fudoh and Mitsuka aren't the only golfers looking to come back this week near the top of the leaderboard. Akiko Fukushima and Sakura Yokomine are hot on their heels at -4 and -3, respectively. Fukushima had been doing nothing right this season until very recently, but she seems to have rediscovered the game that has put her at #2 on the JLPGA's career money list behind Fudoh. Yokomine, who's cut down on her international schedule this year in order to focus on returning to the #1 spot on the JLPGA money list, which she relinquished last season to rookie Sun-Ju Ahn, has had a ho-hum start to her season, with only 1 win and 4 top 3s in her 17 starts.
Speaking of Ahn, her struggles in the 1st round put her in pretty good company. Even though she only made 2 birdies against 3 bogeys, she still tied Shinobu Moromizato, Bo-Bae Song, and defending champion Saiki Fujita, and she leads Ji-Hee Lee and Mi-Jeong Jeon by 1, Momoko Ueda, Teresa Lu, and Hyun-Ju Shin by 2, Miki Saiki and Shiho Oyama by 3, and Ayako Uehara by 4. So as long as she makes the cut tomorrow, she may be able to replicate last year's weekend charge that brought her into the top 3.
Here's how all the leaders and notables fared in the 1st round:
T1/-5 Yuri Fudoh, Yuko Mitsuka (67)
3rd/-4 Akiko Fukushima (68)
4th/-3 Sakura Yokomine (69)
T5/-2 Bo-Mee Lee, Ritsuko Ryu, Rikako Morita, Kaori Aoyama, Mio Nakanishi (70)
T10/-1 Miho Koga, Shanshan Feng, Rui Kitada, Mayu Hattori, Maiko Wakabayashi, Asako Fujimoto, Ah-Reum Hwang, Toshimi Kimura (71)
T18/E Young Kim, Na-Ri Kim, Soo-Yun Kang, Hiromi Mogi, Mika Takushima, Yumiko Yoshida, Miki Sakai (72)
T28/+1 Sun-Ju Ahn, Shinobu Moromizato, Bo-Bae Song, Saiki Fujita, Kumiko Kaneda, Li-Ying Ye (73)
T36/+2 Ji-Hee Lee, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yukari Baba, Kaori Ohe, Yun-Jye Wei, Yuki Ichinose, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Eun-Bi Jang (74)
T51/+3 Momoko Ueda, Junko Omote, Teresa Lu, Hyun-Ju Shin, Eun-A Lim, Na-Ri Lee, Tamie Durdin, Esther Lee, Erina Hara, Aiko Ueno, Da Ye Na, Tao-Li Yang (75)
T69/+4 Miki Saiki, Shiho Oyama, Akane Iijima, So-Hee Kim, Jae-Hee Bae, Megumi Kido, Miki Uehara (76)
T82/+5 Ayako Uehara, Mie Nakata, Woo-Soon Ko, Ji-Woo Lee, Lala Anai (77)
T94/+6 Ji-Na Lim, Erika Kikuchi (78)
T117/+9 Yuki Sakurai (81)
My only question is why Chie Arimura is not playing this week. She's been just as vocal as Yokomine about bringing the money-list title back home to Japan this year. Is she hurt like Ji-Yai Shin is?
In any case, I'll be interested to see if Ritsuko Ryu, who's been playing fantastic golf of late, can close the gap on the leaders tomorrow. About has hot have been Na-Ri Kim and Shanshan Feng, so will the youth movement sweeping the JLPGA pass Fudoh and Fukushima by, or will they show the kids a thing or 2 about playing quality golf on the biggest stage?