The leaderboard at the Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open is a great introduction to the JLPGA! Rikako Morita, Akane Iijima, Ritsuko Ryu, and Phoebe Yao all opened with 68s to share the 1st-round lead. Who's chasing them is a veritable who's who on tour!
You've got your world-class stars scattered across the top of it: Sun-Ju Ahn and Sakura Yokomine at -3, Ji-Yai Shin and Mi-Jeong Jeon at -2, Momoko Ueda at -1, Ji-Hee Lee at E, and Shiho Oyama at +1.
You've got your established stars and veterans on the tour right with them: Miki Saiki and Mayu Hattori at -3, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Young Kim, and Bo-Bae Song at -2, Yukari Baba and Erina Hara at -1, Yumiko Yoshida, Yukari Baba, Hyun-Ju Shin, Esther Lee, Na Ri Kim, and Kaori Aoyama at E, and Yuko Saitoh, Hiroko Fukushima, Teresa Lu, Yuki Ichinose, Junko Omote, Yuko Mitsuka, and Megumi Kido at +1.
And of course you've got the rugrats getting into everything: Ai Suzuki at -3, Misuzu Narita and 18-year-old amateur Kotone Hori at -2, Haruka Kudo, Shiho Toyonaga, and 15-year-old amateur Otoha Yoshi at -1, Natsuka Hori, Miki Sakai, Kaori Ohe, Asako Fujimoto, Lala Anai, Eri Joma, and Riho Fujisaki at E, and Erina Yamato, Nana Yamashiro, and Rumi Yoshida at +1.
You've even got your dark horses like Porani Chutichai, Yoko Maeda, and Asami Kikuchi at -2, Ji-Woo Lee, Yukari Nishiyama, Kaori Nakamura, Eun-Bi Jang, and Ji Min Lee at -1, Satsuki Oshiro, Miki Uehara, Mihoko Iseri, and Yumi Takabayashi at E, and Yui Kawahara, Yuko Fukuda, Eriko Tanikawa, and Nozomi Inoue at +1.
Even the leaders represent different groupings on tour. Morita is a young gun who's broken through to star status on tour (she got her 7th JLPGA title earlier this season) and will represent Japan with Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, and Sakura Yokomine in the LPGA's International Crown. Yao is a rising star who got her 1st win this season and whom I rank among the best 22 female pros under 22 years of age in the world. Ryu won in 2011 and 2012 and has been a regular in the top 15 on tour the last 3 seasons. And Iijima is an established star on tour who's been eclipsed in recent years but still has 6 JLPGA victories to her name.
Which of these many individuals will rise to the top on the weekend--and which group(s) they'll represent--is what makes the JLPGA such an interesting tour to follow. My big question is whether the empire will strike back this week--Ahn, Yokomine, and Morita are all recent money-list leaders; Yokomine and Jeon have 22 JLPGA victories each; Lee has 17 and Oyama 13--or whether we'll continue to see the rebel alliance rack up victories....