Saturday, March 15, 2014

Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup Saturday: Bo-Bae Song Leads, Field Remains Bunched

Bo-Bae Song leads the Yokohama Tire PRGR Ladies Cup by 1 shot over Asako Fujimoto, one of her co-leaders from the 1st round, thanks to her 2 birdies in her last 8 holes, but neither really took advantage of better scoring conditions today, as Song's 3-birdie 71 brought her to -4 and Fujimoto's 72 kept her at -3.

As a result, many players were able to move into contention on moving day.  Yun-Jye Wei and Miki Sakai made the most impressive moves, firing 6-birdie 67s that brought them into a big group of players at -2 that includes Sun-Ju Ahn (70) and Yuki Ichinose (72).  70s by 24-year-old Airi Saitoh and amateur Haruka Morita, along with a 71 from defending champion Mi-Jeong Jeon, brought the total of players under par to 9, while a 69 by Phoebe Yao and a 70 by Bo-Mee Lee allowed them to catch yesterday's co-leader Mami Fukuda (75) at E.  The number of golfers within 5 shots of the lead dropped from 29 to 17, but there are still plenty of players with a legitimate shot at walking away with the title.  And So-Hee Kim and Erika Kikuchi fired 69s to make the cut in style.

For some of the biggest names in the field, however, things aren't so rosy.  Sure, Sakura Yokomine made 3 birdies in her last 8 holes to move back to +2 for the week (catching Yumiko Yoshida, who bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes), but Rikako Morita bogeyed 2 of her last 4 holes to fall back to +4 (she's tied with Miki Saiki), Ji-Yai Shin (73) barely made the cut at +6, Momoko Ueda and Mamiko Higa missed the cut, and Young Kim had to withdraw.  As a result, Shin's odds of making Team Korea in the LPGA's International Crown just fell, as did Higa's, Saiki's, and Yoshida's of making up serious ground on Yokomine and Morita for the last 2 spots on Team Japan.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot's 3 bogeys and a double that dropped her back to +5 didn't do her any favors, either, when it comes to staying ahead of Thidapa Suwannapura in the race for the last spot on Team Thailand.

Back to the leaders in closing.  28-year-old Song had 3 victories in her 1st 3 years on the JLPGA, but has struggled in the last 2 seasons, failing to break into the top 40 on the money list after 4 top 20 finishes in her 1st 5 seasons (and none worse than 29th).  Her last victory came at the 2009 Mizuno Classic and like Teresa Lu last year after her victory there, Song decided not to take up LPGA membership.  It would be very cool to see her return to the winner's circle tomorrow.  Her closest pursuer, 23-year-old Fujimoto, has only 1 JLPGA victory to her name, but she's finished in the top 30 on the money list in 3 of her last 4 seasons, and is definitely one of Japan's young guns to watch.  Although she couldn't take advantage of her 2 great chances in the 2nd half of last season to notch that 2nd victory, she moved up into 15th on the money list, her 2nd-best finish, on the strength of 7 top 10s, 10 top 20s , and 13 top 30s in her last 16 starts.

So neither Song nor Fujimoto would be a surprise winner, although the former would be making a major comeback.  Let's see if they can stay ahead of the likes of Ahn, Jeon, and Lee, the biggest names among their closest pursuers.

[Update 1 (7:04 am):  Continuing a major storyline from 2013, tomorrow is set up for yet another Seoul Sisters vs. Japanese young guns showdown on the JLPGA.  Miki Sakai (22), Rumi Yoshiba (20), Haruka Morita (17), Airi Saitoh (24), and Mami Fukuda (20) could all win tomorrow....]

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