Saturday, March 29, 2014

AXA Ladies Saturday: Saiki Fujita Shoots 2nd-Straight 67; Looking for 1st JLPGA Win in 3 Years

Saiki Fujita has made as many eagles as bogeys in her 1st 36 holes of the AXA Ladies--1 each--as she rode a bogey-free 67 today to the top of the leaderboard, 2 shots ahead of 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe and 4 shots ahead of Bo-Mee Lee, Erina Hara, and 18-year-old amateur Asuka Kashiwabara.  The 28-year-old Fujita, now in her 10th season on the JLPGA, is looking for her 6th win on tour and 1st since 2011.  She blew past her playing partner and 1st-round leader Watanabe with a pair of late birdies after Watanabe suffered a 4-hole stretch midway through the back 9 where she made 2 bogeys and no birdies.

Meanwhile, the 18-year-old Kashiwabara thrilled the home crowd as she shot up the leaderboard with a bogey-free 67 of her own, capped off by 3 birdies in her last 6 holes.  Known best for her 14-shot victory over both boys and girls at the R&A's 2012 Junior Open, the Miyazaki native finished T16 here last season, is ranked #202 in the WAGR, has played in the Japan Women's Open at least the last 3 years, and finished T47 at last year's Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship.  So don't be too surprised if she's in contention on the back 9 tomorrow.

Other players bounced back from bad 1st rounds to make the cut, but they aren't really in contention.  These include Teresa Lu (67, -2), Hye-Jin Jung (67, -1) Riho Fujisaki (68, -1), Yayoi Arasaki (69, E), Sun-Ju Ahn (70, E), Ji-Hee Lee (70, E), and Ji-Yai Shin (70, +1).  Unfortunately, Shiho Oyama, who had a chance to win here last year, missed the cut badly, as did Yuko Mitsuka, Yuki Sakurai, and Miho Mori (who went 69-78).  Others who won't be playing on Sunday include Momoko Ueda, Miki Saiki, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Na-Ri Lee, and Na-Ri Kim, as well as Yumiko Yoshida, who had to withdraw.

So the stage is cleared for Fujita, who's also being chased by a gaggle of young Japanese players,  including 21-year-olds Natsuka Hori (the defending champion), Misuzu Narita, Mami Fukuda, and Kotono Kozuma, along with 22-year-old Miki Sakai.  Let's see, too, whether 26-year-olds Erina Hara and Lala Anai can keep pace with the youngsters, and whether 25-year-old Bo-Mee Lee can beat Fujita to her 6th victory on the JLPGA.  If Fujita gets off to a fast start tomorrow, she'll be tough to catch!

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