Scoring was low in the 1st round of the Mizuno Classic, as Ah-Reum Hwang set the pace by twice birdieing 3 holes in a row on her way to a 7-birdie 66, Akane Iijima responded with a bogey-free 66 of her own, and ex-LPGAer Teresa Lu caught them by birdieing 5 holes in a row as she made the turn onto the front 9 of the Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club. Momoko Ueda, who won here in 2007 but has been struggling the last 2 seasons, also fired a bogey-free 31 on the front, but offset her 2 birdies on the back with 2 bogeys to remain 1 shot behind the co-leaders.
With 23 players breaking 70--including Stacy Lewis, In-Kyung Kim, Shanshan Feng, Azahara Munoz, Catriona Matthew, Mina Harigae, and Ayako Uehara at 68 and Na Yeon Choi, 2-time winner here Ji-Yai Shin, Hee-Won Han, Ritsuko Ryu, Mayu Hattori, Na-Ri Kim, Hyun-Ju Shin, Ryann O'Toole, Vicky Hurst, and Pornanong Phatlum at 69--this is still anyone's ball game. And with JLPGA money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn only 4 back, along with Mika Miyazato, Shiho Oyama, Hee Kyung Seo, Candie Kung, and Yukari Baba--not to mention Karrie Webb, Chie Arimura, Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Hee Young Park, Christina Kim, and Tiffany Joh within 5--the leaders had better keep going low over their last 36 holes.
But some big-name players have their work cut out for them as they head into the weekend. Mi Hyun Kim and Meena Lee found themselves 3 behind playing partner Hee-Won Han and 6 off the lead at the end of the day, despite Han's shooting a birdie-less 37 on the front (their back). Ai Miyazato, Inbee Park, and Miki Saiki could only manage 73s, despite an eagle from Saiki on the 1st hole (her 10th); it was a double each from the once-dominant dual LPGA-JLPGA members on the back that did them in. Meanwhile, Song-Hee Kim, Eun-Hee Ji, Young Kim, and Kumiko Kaneda put themselves near the bottom of the leaderboard at +2. (Only Jimin Kang had a worse opening day, a 6-bogey 77.)
Still, there's hope for everyone in the field. Nobody went super-low on both sides. Just as Lu, Hwang, and Ueda feasted on the front (along with Na-Ri Kim, Harigae, Eun-A Lim, and Asako Fujimoto), it was Iijima, Jeon, Han, Matthew, Uehara, and Phatlum who caught fire on the back. Plenty of players squandered fantastic moments, as well. Fujimoto birdied 4 in a row mid-way through the front (her back), but bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes to settle for a 33 on the side and a 69 overall. Oyama eagled the short par-5 13th (her 4th hole) but gave it right back with a double on the long par-4 15th; although she buckled down right afterward and player her last 12 holes -3 and bogey-free, imagine how low she could have gone if she had kept her momentum going without that interruption. Contrast that with co-leader Hwang, who got off to a rocky start but played her last 15 holes -7 and bogey-free, and you have what could end up being a margin of victory.
But let's see what happens on moving day. With the top 3 Koreans in the world--Choi, Shin, and Ahn--chasing In-Kyung Kim, who always seems to rev it up at the very end of the season, there's a great chance they'll draft each other to the top of the leaderboard. The pairings have been shuffled by score, so it'll be interesting to see whether the relatively unheralded co-leaders can keep the pedal to the metal from the final group on Saturday. Stay tuned!