The story of the JLPGA in 2013 has been the rise of young Japanese players who had taken over the winner's circle for much of the season--until recent weeks, however, when Young Kim, Da Ye Na, and Sun-Ju Ahn have lead a charge by the formerly-dominant South Korean contingent. Well, 2 rounds into the Nitori Ladies, which Ahn won last year, it's up to 25-year-old Lala Anai to hold off the defending champion, her fellow former KLPGA star Bo-Mee Lee, and JLPGA regular Esther Lee. And waiting in the wings if the leaders falter are 20-year-old Chiba native Misuzu Narita and probably the most successful Korean golfer ever on the JLPGA, Mi-Jeong Jeon, both only 3 shots behind Anai (tied with veteran Rui Kitada). Meanwhile, LPGA rookie Ayako Uehara headlines the group at -2, which includes ex-LPGAer Teresa Lu (who is still looking for her 1st JLPGA victory), 22-year-old Mikiko Nishi, and veteran Yuko Fukuda.
With money-list leader Rikako Morita not playing this week, #2 Natsuka Hori and #3 Miki Saiki barely making the cut, and #4 Yumiko Yoshida, #6 Sakura Yokomine, and #7 Mamiko Higa stuck in the middle of the pack, tomorrow is a great opportunity for #5 Jeon to make a move and for Bo-Mee Lee and Sun-JU Ahn to really jump-start their seasons. Anai probably won't get the help that these former KLPGA stars gave her at the end of their moving day rounds--Lee had a walkoff double while Ahn bogeyed 2 of her last 5 holes to fall back to -4 and 2 shots off the pace--so it'll be interesting to see how the youngster handles tomorrow's pressure. Anai got an early T4 and T6 but has not had a top 10 in her last 15 starts this season. Last year, she was in 2nd place heading into the final round, but a 72 allowed Ahn and 3 others to pass her. Let's see if history repeats itself or if Anai is able to keep the Japanese youth movement alive!