There's been a South Korean resurgence on the JLPGA of late, led by former leading money winner Sun-Ju Ahn, who just missed taking her 3rd tournament in a row last week. But the major story of the year, the coming of age of Japan's under-26 set, continues apace this week in the JLPGA's 2nd major.
Last week's winner Yumiko Yoshida isn't quite in that age group, but her victory last week vaulted her to 2nd on the money list, and after the 1st round of the Konica Minolta Cup she's tied for 2nd. Like leader Miki Sakai, whose 66 was marred only by a bogey on the 18th, Yoshida also bogeyed the 393-yard par 4 to settle for a 68 that left her 2 shots behind the 22-year-old. Also tied for 2nd is 24-year-old Yuki Ichinose, who made 7 birdies in a roller coaster round, and 25-year-old Bo-Mee Lee, who's Korea's best hope right now with Ahn 6 shots off the pace (although 25-year-old Na-Ri Lee is also right in it after opening with a 69).
Sakai and Ichinose aren't even the most impressive of the Japanese youngsters near the top of the leaderboard. 19-year-old Mamiko Higa has already won twice this year, as has 21-year-old Natsuka Hori, and they're both only 3 shots behind Sakai, along with 25-year-old Erina Hara, who hasn't won since 2008. With 25-year-old Lala Anai and 21-year-old Mami Fukuda 4 shots back and 23-year-old money-list leader Rikako Morita 5 off the pace, the JLPGA's youth movement is going along just fine, thank you very much. Sure, Misuzu Narita (20), Harukyo Nomura (20), Shiho Toyonaga (23), Kumiko Kaneda (24), Erika Kikuchi (25), Mayu Hattori (25), and Ritsuo Ryu (25) are all stuck at E, but they're still in it, too.
That's a challenge to the established stars of the tour, like Yuri Fudoh (36 years old, 5 back), Shiho Oyama (36 years old, 6 back), Mi-Jeong Jeon (30 years old, 4 back), Sakura Yokomine (27 years old, 4 back), Shinobu Moromizato (27 years old, 5 back), and defending champion and LPGA rookie Chie Arimura (25 years old, 6 back). A lot can happen in 54 holes, so let's see if Arimura can make like her hottest peers and rise up the leaderboard, if Yoshida can put herself in position to get her 2nd win in a row, whether Ahn can put herself back in the mix, and whether the winless Sakai can keep on rolling.