Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fujisankei Ladies Classic Sunday: 21-Year-Old Phoebe Yao Breaks Through for 1st JLPGA Victory

21-year-old Phoebe Yao fired a bogey-free 68 to win the Fujisankei Ladies Classic by 5 shots over fellow young guns Mamiko Higa and Misuzu Narita, but the final round was much more dramatic than that quick summary makes it seem.

First was the crashing and the burning.  Shiho Oyama, who ended last season in the winner's circle, was going for career JLPGA victory #14 today, while her co-leader, Esther Lee, who like her started the day at -5, was going for her 2nd W in the last 3 weeks.  Well, Oyama didn't make a birdie all day and faded to E with a 77, while Lee held on for the 1st 9 holes but put herself out of the running with a 5-bogey 40 on the back.

Then there was the charging and the jockeying.  Yao played brilliant golf as her playing partners and fellow co-leaders through 36 holes struggled, then plummeted down the leaderboard, firing a bogey-free 33 on the front to move to -8.  And it was a damn good thing she did that, because 20-year-old Mamiko Higa, who had struggled earlier this season under the pressure of trying to catch Sakura Yokomine and Rikako Morita for the last spot on Team Japan in the LPGA's International Crown and gone through a little bit of a let-down after failing to do so, all of a sudden went on a birdie barrage an hour and a half before the leaders.  Higa made 7 birdies in a row to close out her front 9 and stood at -6 for the week right around the time Yao, Lee, and Oyama were getting ready to tee it up.  Even though Higa bogeyed the 568-yard par-5 12th, she bounced back with a 2 more birdies in a row to stand at -7 with 4 holes left to play.

But she wasn't the only one forcing Yao to step it up to stay in the mix.  25-year-old Step-Up Tour graduate Eriko Sonoda, playing with newbie Hikari Fujita (all of 19) and veteran Soo-Yun Kang (you look it up)--who were doing the Oyama-Lee crashing/burning thing all day right in front of the leaders' threesome--made it look easy for her 1st 11 holes as her 3 birdies and no bogeys also moved her to -7.

So it was a 3-player race down the home stretch, right?  By the time Yao made the last of her birdies on the front, on the par-3 9th, disaster had struck Higa on the par-3 17th.  With the tournament on the line, she somehow tripled the 172-yard hole, a fate that befell only 2 other golfers all day.  So Higa finished her week at -4, sharing leader in the clubhouse honors with her playing partner Narita, who birdied the 17th for a 4-shot swing on her fellow young gun.

So then it was 2, right?  Well, Sonoda stopped making birdies after the 11th and bogeyed the 416-yard par-4 15th to fall to -6, then fell 3 behind the leader when Yao birdied the 480-yard par-5 16th.  In response, she finished double bogey-bogey to fall to -3, tied with Miki Sakai for 4th at -3.

All Yao had to do was avoid triple bogeys on her last 2 holes for her 1st JLPGA victory, which she did easily.  And she moved to #8 on the 2014 JLPGA money list as a result:

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥33.09M
2. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥31.60M

3. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥25.90M
4. Erina Hara ¥25.39M
5. Ayaka Watanabe ¥25.22M
6. Rikako Morita ¥25.21M
7. Esther Lee ¥21.99M
8. Phoebe Yao ¥18.89M
9. Miki Sakai ¥18.87M
10. Yuki Ichinose ¥16.56M

11. Ritsuko Ryu ¥16.28M
12. Mami Fukuda ¥14.31M
13. Ji-Hee Lee ¥14.03M
14. Mamiko Higa ¥13.82M
15. Misuzu Narita ¥13.35M
16. Saiki Fujita ¥12.53M
17. Yumiko Yoshida ¥11.58M
18. Asako Fujimoto ¥11.52M
19. Teresa Lu ¥10.94M
20. Yukari Baba ¥10.63M
21. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥9.77M
22. Ji-Yai Shin ¥9.44M
23. Rui Kitada ¥8.45M
24. Mayu Hattori ¥7.61M
25. Junko Omote ¥7.49M

Next up is the CyberAgent Ladies, where Sakura Yokomine hopes she puts up a better title defense than her fellow star who also missed the cut this week, Miki Saiki.  With Ji-Yai Shin, Yuri Fudoh, and Chie Arimura as the other past winners of this event, I expect a strong field.  But so far neither the JLPGA nor the tournament organizers have posted a field list.  More on what to expect next week when I see one....  It's the last tune-up before the JLPGA's 1st major of 2014, the Salonpas Cup, so it's likely to be a strong one!

[Update 1 (5:20 am):  It was a battle of young guns on the KLPGA, too.  In the end, heralded rookie Kyu Jung Baek outputted last year's money-list leader Ha Na Jang down the stretch to take her 1st victory on tour.  Fellow rookies Min Sun Kim, Jin Young Ko, and Ji Hyun Oh all got top 10s, but after opening with a 64, I think Kim had higher expectations.]

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