Saturday, March 8, 2014

Daikin Orchid Ladies Saturday: Defending Champion Rikako Morita Makes Her Move

Rikako Morita started the 2013 season by winning the Daikin Orchid Ladies in a playoff over Sakura Yokomine and ended it by winning the JLPGA money-list title by less than 2 million yen over Yokomine.  In her JLPGA debut in 2014 at the Daikin Orchid Ladies, Morita has moved into a tie for the lead with fellow young gun Ritsuko Ryu by birdieing her last 2 holes for a 69 that brought her to -5 for the week.  And guess who fired the low round of the day to pull within 2 shots of the co-leaders?  Yup, Sakura Yokomine, whose 5-birdie 68 matched 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe's bogey-free version.

And what of the fighting Lees, who played so well yesterday?  Never fear, Seoul Sisters fans!  Bo-Mee only made 1 birdie but still posted a 73 to fall back only to -4, while Ji-Hee made 5 birdies but posted only a 71 to join her 1 shot off the lead.  Both got caught by Yuko Mitsuka, who actually was tied for the lead until she had to settle for a 69 when she suffered a walkoff bogey.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot ended her round on the opposite note, with an eagle that salvaged a 72 and brought her back to -3, tied with Yokomine and Airi Saitoh (70).  Meanwhile, Watanabe was joined at -2 by some of the biggest names in the field, including 2012 money-list title-holder Mi-Jeong Jeon (70, thanks to 3 birdies in her last 4 holes), former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin (71, thanks to 3 birdies in her last 6 holes), and 2013 Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (71, who opened with a 4-birdie 33 on her home island, but needed a walkoff birdie to salvage a 38 coming home).  Speaking of big names, Momoko Ueda (72, -1), Sun-Ju Ahn (71, E), Mika Miyazato (72, E), and Teresa Lu (73, E) are still within striking distance of the lead if they can finish hot tomorrow.

Others will need more help to chase down the leaders.  Ayako Uehara fell 6 shots off the pace, Na-Ri Kim 7, Miki Saiki 8, and Shiho Oyama 9.  But at least they live to fight another round.  Yuri Fudoh, Na Zhang, Young Kim, Shinobu Moromizato, Bo-Bae Song, and Na-Ri Lee all missed the cut and Soo-Yun Kang had to withdraw.

So with 18 holes to go, Morita and Yokomine are in good position to solidify their spots on Team Japan in the LPGA's International Crown, while Ryu and Higa are in the best position to challenge them.  And if Ji-Yai Shin or Sun-Ju Ahn are going to make a last-minute charge for Team Korea, they are going to need to win or contend tomorrow, too, as Ha Na Jang is poised to challenge In-Kyung Kim's 4th and final spot tomorrow at Mission Hills on the LET.  Should be a great finish!

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