Friday, November 29, 2013

Ricoh Cup Thursday and Friday: Shiho Oyama Continues Knocking at Victory's Door

Shiho Oyama has had an illustrious career on the JLPGA.  She made history in 2006 when she won 5 times and broke Yuri Fudoh's streak of 6-straight seasons atop the tour's money list.  Her winnings of over 166 million yen that season have been exceeded only by Sakura Yokomine in 2009.  She's won 12 times in all.  But she hasn't been the same golfer since injuring both elbows while preparing for and playing on the LPGA in 2009, with just 1 JLPGA victory and no top-10 finishes ever since returning to the tour full-time in 2010.

This season, however, she's begun contending with regularity again.  And this week, the final week of the season, in the tour's final event and final major, she finds herself at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway point of the Ricoh Cup.  Despite suffering a walk-off double today, she leads Bo-Mee Lee (who bogeyed her last 2 holes), Na-Ri Lee (who did the same), and Sun-Ju Ahn (who bogeyed 18) by 1 shot, Teresa Lu and Yumiko Yoshida by 2 shots, and Mamiko Higa and Mi-Jeong Jeon by 4 shots.  They're the only players in the elite field at par or better.  Money-list leader Rikako Morita is T12 at +3, tied with Ji-Yai Shin, who needs a top-6 finish to retain her card for 2014, and 3 shots ahead of Sakura Yokomine, who closed with a birdieless 40 today.

What's set Oyama apart thus far is her ability to make birdies in bunches.  On Thursday, she made 4 birdies in an 8-hole stretch early in her round; today she had been riding a streak of 9 bogey-free holes that included her 2nd run of 4 birdies in 8 holes of the week before making her closing double.  Other leaders have also made runs--like Ahn's bogey-free 32 to start the tournament--but they've made more and bigger mistakes than Oyama.  Yoshida, for instance, is -4 and bogey-free on the front but has made only 1 birdie on the back and is +2 there overall.  Morita made 3 birdies and an eagle in her 1st 12 holes on Thursday, but bogeyed 5 of her last 6 holes to settle for an opening 74.  All 5 of Bo-Mee Lee's bogeys this week have come on the back 9.  And so on.

There's a lot of golf yet to be played and leading on the weekend is a different animal entirely, but Oyama has had the lead 2 days in a row.  Let's see if she can keep it going!  Like defending champion Bo-Mee Lee, who is also looking for her 2nd win at the Ricoh Cup, Oyama can't break the 100 million yen mark with a win.  But she can set the stage for a serious career comeback.  After all, her 2005 win here was a harbinger of her history-making 2006 season!

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