Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Overview: Huge Upset for Natsu Nagai

Natsu Nagai birdied 5 of her last 10 holes and 3 of her last 5 last Sunday at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic to blast past some of the JLPGA's biggest names and capture her 1st career victory in 9 years of trying.

Money-list leader Mi-Jeong Jeon had opened with a 64 and got to -12 for the week with a birdie on the 1st hole of her final round, but lost all her momentum after bogeying the par-5 3rd hole and found herself on the 18th tee 1 shot behind Nagai, needing a birdie on the 367-yard par-4 to force a playoff.  Instead, she doubled it to fall back to 4th place, 1 shot behind Miki Saiki and Bo-Mee Lee.  Saiki birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to pull within 2 shots of Nagai, but it was Lee who had the best chance to win--at least until a double on the 383-yard par-4 14th dropped her back to -9.  Playing with Lee, Nagai took advantage with a birdie, engineering a 3-shot swing on a hole she moved to -10 on.  From there, she outbirdied Lee 2 to 1 to secure the victory.

Other players shot themselves out of the running on the front 9.  Chie Arimura posted a birdie-less 38 that made her closing 33 moot.  Da-Ye Na squandered her 71-65 start to the week with a triple and 2 bogeys in her 1st 4 holes that dug way too big a hole for her to climb out of, even with a 4-birdie 33 on the back.  Similarly, Misuzu Narita opened bogey-par-triple to make her closing heroics--6 birdies in her last 12 holes--too little and far too late.

True, all of them needed perfect rounds to have a chance of chasing down Nagai, who opened and closed her week with 66s.  But let's face it, when a veteran who's never won more than 16 million yen in a single season walks away with a win, it's got to make more players than usual be thinking "coulda woulda shoulda" and wondering why they couldn't find their way to the winner's circle.  Certainly defending champion Mayu Hattori and perennial star Sakura Yokomine, who couldn't seem to get it out of neutral this week, would have loved to be in the mix instead of the middle of the pack.

Nagai's win means that Jeon failed to extend her money-list lead significantly on either Sun-Ju Ahn or Arimura.  But the JLPGA's Big 3 still have a huge lead on the rest of the top 10....

1. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥105.82M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥92.89M
3. Chie Arimura ¥85.18M
4. Ritsuko Ryu ¥61.50M
5. Mayu Hattori ¥60.93M
6. Miki Saiki ¥57.98M
7. Bo-Mee Lee ¥55.84M
8. Ji-Hee Lee ¥52.40M
9. Rikako Morita ¥50.82M
10. Sakura Yokomine ¥44.18M
11. Yumiko Yoshida ¥43.64M
12. Inbee Park ¥41.94M
13. Shanshan Feng ¥40.48M
14. Soo-Yun Kang ¥35.84M
15. Hiromi Mogi ¥32.06M
16. Esther Lee ¥30.18M
17. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥29.64M
18. Mihoko Iseri ¥29.20M
19. Yuri Fudoh ¥28.27M
20. Kaori Ohe ¥28.01M
21. Megumi Kido ¥25.86M
22. Natsu Nagai ¥25.41M
23. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥22.41M
24. Yuki Ichinose ¥22.00M
25. Kumiko Kaneda ¥21.83M
26. So-Hee Kim ¥21.75M
27. Na-Ri Lee¥21.09M
28. Na-Ri Kim ¥21.01M
29. Yukari Baba ¥20.58M
30. Miki Sakai ¥20.48M
31. Shinobu Moromizato ¥20.35M
32. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥20.29M
33. Rui Kitada ¥20.17M
34. Ayako Uehara ¥19.51M
35. Akane Iijima ¥18.81M
36. Erina Hara ¥18.68M
37. Junko Omote ¥18.60M
38. Airi Saitoh ¥18.35M
39. Young Kim¥18.05M
40. Ji-Yai Shin ¥17.78M
41. Eun-Bi Jang ¥17.31M
42. Erika Kikuchi ¥17.12M
43. Teresa Lu ¥16.95M
44. Bo-Bae Song ¥15.63M
45. Saiki Fujita¥15.00M
46. Harukyo Nomura ¥14.48M
47. Yuko Fukuda ¥14.28M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥13.00M
49. Hsuan-Yu Yao ¥11.79M
50. Nikki Campbell ¥11.61M

If Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng weren't playing so great on the LPGA this year, you might have seen them focusing more on moving up the JLPGA money list the rest of the season.  Jeon, after all, could have won at least half a dozen more events if she were a better closer, Ahn and Arimura are having good but not great seasons, and no one else has been as consistently strong as the dual LPGA-JLPGA members.  I'm not saying Park has a legitimate shot at taking both the LPGA and JLPGA money titles this year, but if she hadn't caught fire on the LPGA I wouldn't put it past her to have taken a serious run at the JLPGA's Big 3.

As it is, what's next for the JLPGA is the 40th playing of the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open this week.  And, yes, Virginia, Feng will be there to defend her title against the likes of, oh, everyone ahead of her on the money list except Park.  A successful title defense would most likely return her squarely into the top 10.  Let's see if she can do it!  It would give her some serious momentum heading into the Japan Women's Open the following week, which will feature the likes of Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Park, and the rest of the JLPGA's finest, along with the typical bumper crop of teenage amateurs:  14-year-olds Minami Katsu and Rei Matsuda, 15-year-olds Kana Nagai, Maria Shinohara, and Moeno Tan, 16-year-olds Mayu Hosaka, Aya Ishikawa, Asuka Kashiwabara, and Haruka Morita, 17-year-old Akane Saeki, and 18-year-olds Hikari Fujita, Yuri Matsuda, Aoi Onishi, and Ai Suzuki.  Highly doubtful any of them will pull a Lydia Ko against a field like that, but we'll see!

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