Friday, September 12, 2014

Konica Minolta Cup Friday: Ai Suzuki's 67 Gives the 20-Year-Old a 4-Shot Lead

20-year-old Ai Suzuki fired a bogey-free 67 in the 2nd round of the JLPGA's 2nd major to move to -7 and take a 4-shot lead on Lala Anai and a 5-shot lead on Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, and Na-Ri Lee at the halfway point of the Konica Minolta Cup.  With money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee only 1 shot further behind and Momoko Ueda part of a big group at E, Suzuki still has plenty of big names chasing her.

But the 2nd-year pro, who's spent much of her pro career on the StepUp Tour (where she has 2 victories) and whose T15 last week was her 2nd-best finish on the big tour (her best was T12 Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open back in May), put together the lowest round of her brief JLPGA career today on the biggest stage she's ever played on.  Shooting 5 69s over the course of her 19 previous JLPGA events is one thing, but keeping it going over the weekend in a major is something else.  Let's see if Suzuki can keep her 5-round streak of shooting 70 or below going on moving day.

If she opens the door to the field, don't count out Esther Lee and Phoebe Yao at E, Ji-Hee Lee and Shinobu Moromizato at +1, Shiho Oyama, Yumiko Yoshida, Mamiko Higa, and Ayaka Watanabe at +2, Rikako Morita, Erina Hara, Ritsuko Ryu, and Saiki Fujita at +3, or even Akiko Fukushima (+4), Miki Saiki (+5), or Mi-Jeong Jeon (+6).  If any of them can match or surpass Suzuki's 67 tomorrow, they should be right back in the mix heading into the final round.  As you can see by how high the cut line went, this course has teeth.  Even players who had good rounds ran into serious trouble today:  Na-Ri Lee's 70 was marred by back-to-back doubles and Narita's 70 included 5 bogeys.  Yesterday, Bo-Mee Lee had a hole in 1 and still could manage only a 71; she was +2 over her final 5 holes today.

Bottom line:  this is still a JLPGA major, where par is a great score over 72 holes.  We're going to find out if Ai Suzuki can do at the Konica Minolta Cup what Mika Miyazato has done at the Japan Women's Open:  take over a tournament and turn a big lead into a big win.  Mikan's done it twice, but memorably couldn't on her 1st try (or her 3rd with a late lead, for that matter).  Good luck to the new Ai-chan!

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