The only golfer to go lower today than last year's money-list title-holder was 20-year-old Watanabe, who made 4 birdies in her last 14 holes and has a 15-hole-and-counting bogey-free run going despite playing in what looked like truly horrendous conditions. And Esther Lee made quite a back-9 charge of her own, with an eagle on a par 5, a birdie on a par 4, and a birdie on a par 3 over her last 6 holes and no bogeys in her last 11 holes and counting to pull within 6 of the lead. Da-Ye Na fired a bogey-free 34 on the par-37 back 9 to catch Sun-Ju Ahn, Teresa Lu, Phoebe Yao, and Lala Anai at E, while 20-year-old Saki Okamura hung in there to be 1 shot ahead of them.
But let's focus on the players with the best odds of winning this thing:
- Rikako Morita: last year's money-list title-holder (in a rousing duel with Sakura Yokomine) and 7-time winner on tour is languishing at #15 on this year's money list, thanks to 4 missed cuts (the most recent coming last week!) and no top 10s in her last 10 starts. By contrast, she had a win and 4 total top 10s in her 1st 8 starts of the year. It would be a huge deal if she could secure her 2nd victory of the season tomorrow.
- Momoko Ueda: after fighting to make the top 50 on last year's money list, she decided to play full-time on the JLPGA this year, but it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns for this 9-time winner on tour and 2007 money-list title-holder. She began the season by missing the cut in 4 of her 1st 6 starts and has only 4 top 10s and 6 top 20s thus far, which explains why she's only #32 on the money list. She's coming off a couple of mediocre finishes in a row, as well, so it would be a huge deal for her to shake off the doldrums tomorrow and win for the 1st time since the 2011 Mizuno Classic.
- Bo-Mee Lee: this year's money-list leader is looking for her 9th JLPGA victory and 4th of 2014, which would make her the 1st 4-time winner of the year on any major tour. And, oh yeah, it would mean that she's won 3 of her last 4 starts. She may well be the hottest player in the world in recent months, with 3 wins, 6 top 5s, 8 top 10s, and 9 top 25s in her last 10 starts.
- Ayaka Watanabe: she got her 1st career JLPGA victory early in the season, but last week's T10 was her 1st top 10 in her previous 7 starts, so she has extra motivation to finish in style. Back in May, I ranked her #13 in my list of the top 22 female professional golfers in the world. A win would not only move her up that list but also up from #8 on the JLPGA money list.
- Kaori Yamamoto: the 40-year-old veteran is the definition of journeywoman, having never won more than 10 million yen in a single season in 13 previous years of trying. But she's coming off her 1st top 10 of 2014 last week and 4th-best finish of her career, so don't count her out!
To give you a sense of how well these 5 have played thus far this week, consider that 2013 JLPGA Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (#9 on my 22 under 22 list), who's signed up for Stage II of LPGA Q-School, by the way, fell back to +4 after shooting a 76 today. She's tied for 30th with the hottest young Japanese golfer in the world right now, Misuzu Narita, who struggled in her prime-time pairing with Lee and Ahn on Friday. But at least they made the cut. Mi-Jeong Jeon, Maiko Wakabayashi, Hiromi Mogi, Hyun-Ju Shin, Na-Ri Kim, and Yuki Sakurai did not. And top golfers from 2013 Miki Saiki and Yumiko Yoshida barely did.
So whoever wins this week will have really done something special. Let's hope the weather is better for everyone tomorrow!