Sunday, June 2, 2013

Resort Trust Ladies Sunday: 19-Year-Old Mamiko Higa Wins for the 2nd Time in 2013

19-year-old Mamiko Higa won the Resort Trust Ladies today by a shot over Mayu Hattori and 2 shots over money-list leader Rikako Morita, but she had to dig deep on the back 9 to get her 2nd career victory on the JLPGA.  Just like her 1st win at this year's Yamaha Ladies, Higa played well when it mattered the most.  She started the day at -7 and stayed there for most of the front 9 while a host of big names were making serious runs at her.  Yuko Mitsuka birdied 4 of her 1st 5 holes and 5 of her 1st 8 to get to -6, while Yukari Baba birdied 5 of her 1st 6 holes to join her.  Meanwhile, Hattori and Morita each birdied 3 of their 1st 5 holes to climb to -7.  And playing partner Phoebe Yao, a 20-year-old from Taiwan, birdied the 6th hole to catch Higa at -7, as well.

But then the tide started turning and all the leaders started struggling.  Mitsuka bogeyed the 9th, Baba bogeyed the 7th and 8th.  Morita bogeyed the 7th and 9th.  Yao bogeyed the last 3 holes on the front in a row, just as Megumi Kido, another youngster playing in the final group, had bogeyed 3 of 4 holes mid-way through the front.  Higa herself bogeyed the 9th.  All of a sudden Hattori, who bogeyed the 6th but birdied the 7th had the lead at -7.

Then Sakura Yokomine jumped into the fray, following up her 2 birdies on the front with a couple more on 10 and 11 to get to -6.  Even Junko Omoto (birdie on 9 to get to -5) and Maiko Wakabayashi (birdie on 10 to get to -5) got themselves in the mix.

But not for long.  Higa responded to her mistake on 9 with a birdie on 10, the 2nd time that day she bounced back from a bogey on a par 4 with a birdie on the following par 5.  She followed it up with a birdie on the short par-4 12th--the only player who finished in the top 10 to accomplish that feat.  But the 25-year-old Hattori, who was looking for her 5th career JLPGA win, wasn't backing down from 3 groups ahead of Higa's.  She birdied the 375-yard par-4 15th to join Higa at -8.  What had started out as a free-for-all was now a long-distance shootout between a pair of rising stars.

Neither would blink, either.  Hattori parred the long par-4 16th, as Higa parred the medium-length par-5 13th.  Hattori parred the 160-yard par-3 17th, as Higa parred the 173-yard par-3 14th.  But as Hattori was parring the medium-length par-4 18th, Higa got a birdie of her own on 15 to take a slim 1-shot lead into the home stretch.  And she parred out to secure the win.

With Morita rallying on the back to take solo 3rd at -6, 8 players tying for 4th at -5, and #2 Miki Saiki falling back in the pack with a closing 74, the money-list leader extended her lead this week.

1. Rikako Morita ¥63.63M
2. Miki Saiki ¥54.15M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥42.48M
4. Hiromi Mogi ¥34.83M
5. Mamiko Higa ¥34.11M
6. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.58M
7. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥32.14M
8. Natsuka Hori ¥30.80M
9. Yuki Ichinose ¥25.26M
10. Ritsuko Ryu ¥23.15M
11. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥21.96M
12. Yukari Baba ¥21.81M
13. Teresa Lu ¥20.02M
14. Na-Ri Kim ¥17.56M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥17.16M
16. Kumiko Kaneda ¥16.84M
17. Mayu Hattori ¥16.79M
18. Junko Omote ¥16.41M
19. Miki Sakai ¥16.13M
20. Erika Kikuchi ¥14.88M
21. Yumiko Yoshida ¥14.23M
22. Rui Kitada ¥14.02M
23. Megumi Kido ¥13.86M
24. Soo-Yun Kang ¥13.27M
25. Na-Ri Lee ¥13.25M
26. Harukyo Nomura ¥12.63M
27. Yuki Sakurai ¥12.53M
28. Phoebe Yao ¥12.52M
29. Erina Hara ¥12.01M
30. Bo-Mee Lee ¥11.45M
31. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥11.44M
32. Ji-Woo Lee ¥11.18M
33. Esther Lee ¥11.15M
34. Da-Ye Na ¥10.72M
35. Kaori Ohe ¥10.72M

So Higa's win knocks Mi-Jeong Jeon (who started this week well but had to WD) out of the top 5, making it an all-Japanese top 5 on the JLPGA money list for the 1st time in my memory.  Instead of camping out in the top 20 of the money list as in previous years, the top Koreans on tour for the most part find themselves on the outside, looking in.  Let's see if this year's trend of a generational struggle replacing Korean dominance continues in the Yonex Ladies next week.  Higa's rise has come too quickly for her to be featured on the field list, but rest assured she is in the field.  Jeon has won here in 2009 and 2010, while Hiromi Mogi did so in 2011.  Last year's winner Shanshan Feng will be defending a different title, the Wegmans LPGA Championship, in my neck of the woods.  I plan to head out to Pittsford on Tuesday and Thursday and next weekend to cover the LPGA's 2nd major in person, but will try to give the Yonex Ladies a little bit of my attention, as well!

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