Sunday, March 4, 2012

Daikin Orchid Ladies Saturday and Sunday: Airi Saitoh Wins JLPGA Season Opener in 3-Way Playoff

It's not so often a complete unknown contends on the JLPGA, much less wins a 3-way playoff against much more accomplished players after giving away a 2-shot overnight lead in the Daikin Orchid Ladies with a double bogey to start her Sunday and giving away another 2-shot lead with 2 holes to go to end it with back-to-back bogeys.  But that's just what 22-year-old Airi Saitoh did today at Ryukyu Country Club in Okinawa. 

Saitoh twice graduated from the JLPGA's developmental tour, the Step-Up Tour, to play 3 JLPGA events in 2010 and 4 in 2011, but never finished under par in a single round and never cracked the top 30.  So what was she doing shooting a 30 on the back on moving day to nail down a bogey-free 64 and leave the likes of Inbee Park and Yukari Baba in the dust?  What was she doing bouncing back from her opening blunder on Sunday with 15 holes of bogey-free golf punctuated by 4 birdies, just as playing partner Inbee Park was going 11 holes before she made her 1st (and only) birdie of the day?  What was she doing as former-wunderkind-turned-comeback-kid Yuko Mitsuka was dropping a 7-birdie 66 on her from way back in the pack to become the 1st player in the field to stay at double digits under par for the week?  Only getting back to -10 with her 2nd birdie of the day, on the 515-yard par-5 7th, and continuing to extend her new bogey-free run as she made the turn.  What was she doing as Ji-Hee Lee made her 5th birdie on the back alone on the long par-3 16th to get to -11?  Just birdieing the 507-yard par-5 11th and 159-yard par-3 13th to retake the lead.  What was she doing hanging on to get into the playoff as fellow youngster and playing partner Erika Kikuchi suffered a final-9 38 to miss it by a shot?  And what was she doing winning the playoff against 4-time-winner Mitsuka and 15-time-winner Lee?  Just by matching Mitsuka's opening playoff birdie and benefitting from a missed par save by Mitsuka on the 2nd playoff hole!

Now the only question that remains for me is whether the 22-year-old 1st-time winner is related in any way to JLPGA veteran Yuko Saitoh, who's, er, old enough to be her mother (but is not).  While we all ponder that question, here are the top 10 and notables' scores!

1st/-10 Airi Saitoh (70-64-72) [won in playoff]
T2/-10 Yuko Mitsuka (73-68-66), Ji-Hee Lee (71-67-67)
4/-9 Erika Kikuchi (70-67-70)
T5/-8 Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-73-65), Sakura Yokomine (71-69-68), Akane Iijima (73-65-70), Rui Kitada (69-69-70)
T9/-7 Mayu Hattori (71-71-67), Rikako Morita (74-67-68), Bo-Mee Lee (70-72-68)

T12/-6 Soo-Yun Kang (71-73-66), Miki Saiki (72-68-70), Megumi Kido (70-70-70), Yukari Baba (68-69-73)
T16/-5 Teresa Lu (72-70-69), Da-Ye Na (71-70-70), Inbee Park (69-67-75), Mamiko Higa [a] (72-67-72), Shinobu Moromizato (68-71-72)
T23/-4 Yuri Fudoh (73-71-68), Yuki Ichinose (72-71-69), Harukyo Nomura (74-68-70), So-Hee Kim (68-74-70)
T29/-3 Na-Ri Kim (68-75-70), Yui Kawahara (68-73-72)
T31/-2 Momoko Ueda (71-73-70), Asako Fujimoto (74-69-71), Miki Uehara (72-71-71), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (68-73-73), Kaori Aoyama (69-73-74)
T36/-1 Young Kim (74-70-71), Esther Lee (74-69-72), Saiki Fujita (71-71-73)
T40/E Ritsuko Ryu (74-70-72), Hsuan-Yu Yao (70-72-74), Bo-Bae Song (69-72-75) 
T46/+1 Ayako Uehara (72-71-74), Nikki Campbell (70-74-73), Mina Nakayama (72-72-73)
49th/+2 Yumiko Yoshida (70-73-75)
T52/+5 Ji-Woo Lee (73-71-77)

MC: Sun-Ju Ahn, Mika Miyazato, Hyun-Ju Shin, Hiromi Mogi, Kumiko Kaneda, Maiko Wakabayashi, Na-Ri Lee, Erina Hara, Ah-Reum Hwang, Kaori Ohe, Hiromi Takesue, Lala Anai, Asuka Tsujimura, Porani Chutichai, Sakurako Mori, Satsuki Oshiro, Aiko Kaneda, Ayaka Kaneda, Ming-Yen Chen, Mizusu Narita, Sae Yamamura, Kotono Kozuma, Minami Oshiro [a], Chiharu Oshiro [a]

You needed to be at least E to be playing on Sunday and amazingly Sun-Ju Ahn, the JLPGA money-list leader for the last 2 years and 6th-ranked player in the world of women's golf, found herself on the wrong side of the cut line.  At least she was in good company!  But now she has some catch-up to play on the leaders of the 2012 JLPGA money list:

1. Airi Saitoh ¥14.4M
2. Ji-Hee Lee, Yuko Mitsuka ¥6.32
4. Erika Kikuchi ¥4.8M
5. Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Akane Iijima, Rui Kitada ¥3.10M
9. Bo-Mee Lee, Mayu Hattori, Rikako Morita ¥1.70M

Next up is the Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup, which Yun-Jye Wei will defend, fresh off a final-round disaster in the LET's World Nations Cup in Hainan, China, which Shanshan Feng won.  Feng will be trying to make it 2 worldwide wins in a row next week in Yokohama.  Stay tuned!

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