Sunday, April 7, 2013

Yamaha Ladies Sunday: 19-Year-Old Mamiko Higa Wins Playoff, Takes 1st JLPGA Win

19-year-old Mamiko Higa's best career finish on the JLPGA before this week had been a bronze last year, but she had been playing nowhere near that well in 2013, with a couple of missed cuts and only 2 rounds under par in her 1st 4 events.  But in the JLPGA's 1st 4-round event of the season, the Yamaha Ladies, Higa hung tough while big names around her were crashing and burning.  A final-round 70, highlighted by 3 birdies and no bogeys in her last 13 holes, brought her to -4 for the week, but she needed a little luck to get into--much less win--the playoff with Teresa Lu and Kaori Ohe.  Ohe was -5 with 5 holes to play but after bogeys on the long par-4 14th and 16th needed a walkoff birdie just to get back to -4.  Lu, by contrast, suffered a walkoff bogey to drop back into the playoff.

But they were not the biggest names among those who helped Higa to the winner's circle.  Even with an early double, Miki Saiki was -4 at the turn, but 2 bogeys and a walkoff birdie later and she ended up 1 shot shy of joining the payoff.  Yukari Baba made 3 early birdies to put herself in contention, and her 3 late birdies would have been enough for the win, except for the fact that she also made 3 bogeys over her last 10 holes.  The result?  A tie with Saiki.  Ritsuko Ryu was -5 with 4 holes to play but was -2 as she teed off on the 18th--ouch!  Sakura Yokomine bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes to join Ryu 2 shots out of the playoff.  Even money list leader Rikako Morita had her struggles:  yes, she fired a bogey-free 33 on the back to leap into T6, only 2 shots out of the playoff, as well, but she opened with a 39 that featured a double on the 9th.  Yumiko Yoshida, who won for the 1st time last year, had the opposite problem:  a bogey-free 33 on the front got her into contention and she was still at -4 with 4 holes to play, but she bogeyed the 1st 2 of them back-to-back and also had to settle for a T6.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot was -4 at the turn, too, but a birdieless 39 on the back left her in T13.  Mayu Hattori made 3 bogeys in her last 11 holes and also finished 3 shots out of the playoff.

And those were just the smaller Sunday falls, as bangkokbobby noted.  Bo-Mee Lee was leading the tournament at -7 through her 1st 6 holes of bogey-free golf, so of course she made 7 bogeys in her last 12 holes to fall 3 off the pace.  Shiho Oyama was right on her tail at -6 through 5 holes today, but a bogey-bogey-double run sent her into a tailspin.  Still, after 2 birdies on the back, she was right back in the thick of the things at -4 with 4 holes to go.  So of course she finished par-double-bogey-par for yet another near-miss in 2013.  And the list goes on:  Soo-Yun Kang, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Na-Ri Lee, Yan-Hong Pan, Ah-Reum Hwang, Asako Fujimoto, even new pro Hyo-Joo Kim had their chances at the start of the day to win, but came nowhere close in the end.

Bottom line, though, is that Higa came through when the chips were down.  She made a birdie putt on the 2nd playoff hole after all 3 golfers parred the 1st.  So congratulations to another in the growing line of under-21 playoff 1st-time winners on the JLPGA:  Mamiko Higa!  Is this a changing of the guard we're witnessing or just a lucky run?

Here's how the JLPGA money list now looks:

1. Rikako Morita ¥33.97M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥21.77M
3. Mamiko Higa ¥18.96M
4. Natsuka Hori ¥16.09M
5. Yuki Ichinose ¥14.82M
6. Teresa Lu ¥13.22M
7. Sakura Yokomine ¥12.80M
8. Ritsuko Ryu ¥12.10M
9. Erika Kikuchi ¥11.56M
10. Harukyo Nomura ¥10.74M
11. Yukari Baba ¥10.20M
12. Miki Saiki ¥9.98M
13. Kaori Ohe ¥8.25M
14. Young Kim ¥8.24M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥8.15M
16. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥8.12M
17. Megumi Kido ¥7.74M
18. Hiromi Mogi ¥6.54M
19. Na-Ri Lee ¥6.25M
20. Bo-Mee Lee ¥5.71M

Next up is the Studio Alice Ladies, which features Ji-Yai Shin and Ayako Uehara from the LPGA.  Let's see if defending champion Miki Saiki can shake off today's disappointment, if Rikako Morita can keep her top-6 streak going, and if the JLPGA's youth movement will keep going full team ahead.

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