Ritsuko Ryu is only 26 years old, has already won twice on the JLPGA, and has finished in the top 15 on the tour's season-ending money list for each of the last 3 years, but she's been overshadowed a bit by players like Rikako Morita, Mamiko Higa, and others who've been in the vanguard of a Japanese youth movement on tour. Well, when Morita, yesterday's leader at the Yamaha Ladies, made 5 bogeys and a triple bogey today and needed 3 birdies in her last 4 holes to salvage a 75, when visiting KLPGA young gun Hyo Joo Kim made 2 double bogeys in a row on the back to ruin an otherwise perfect day, and when nobody else close to the lead could match Ryu's birdie-eagle burst as she made the turn, the spotlight shifted Ryu's way, as she ended up with a 69 that brought her to -6 and the sole possession of the lead.
Hot on Ryu's tail are a trio of golfers who are pretty used to the spotlight themselves, Sun-Ju Ahn, Yumiko Yoshida, and Young Kim. Yoshida got to -5 via a solid 71, but Ahn and Kim tied Ryu and Hyun-Ju Shin for the low rounds of the day (and the only under 70) to join her 1 shot off the lead. If Bo-Mee Lee hadn't made a double early in her round, she may have outshone everyone today, but as it is she had to settle for a 70 that left her at -4, 1 shot ahead of Morita, the KLPGA's Kim, Erina Hara, and Mihoko Iseri. With 24 players at E or better--including Shiho Oyama (70, -2) and Mi-Jeong Jeon (72, E)--the winner of the JLPGA's 1st 72-hole event of 2014 could still be almost anyone who made the cut (although Teresa Lu at +5 and Yuki Ichinose at +4 will have to play flawlessly over the next 36 holes to have a chance of getting into the Sunday mix).
Defending champion Mamiko Higa will not be one of them, however. Her 78 today included only 1 birdie and left her barely on the wrong side of the cut line. Other notables in her boat include Momoko Ueda, Na Zhang, Na-Ri Lee, Kumiko Kaneda, Mami Fukuda, and Nontaya Srisawang. So with Ji-Yai Shin, Sakura Yokomine, and Bo-Bae Song playing at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the stage is cleared for Ryu to make her mark over the weekend. Let's see if she can do it--or whether the young guns will strike back on moving day!