Farewell, Dai-chan: Daisuke Takahashi Retires from Competitive Figure Skating

The Constructivist household is in mourning for the retirement of Daisuke Takahashi from competitive figure skating.  Ever since we found out, I’ve been asking the Full Metal Archivist to write something celebrating his career, but she’s still dealing with the shock of the news and is just too sad to put her feelings into words.  What she has told me has been poetic:  “he flirted with the music, seduced audiences, and challenged judges…he was a shaman on the ice.”  So I’ll just point you too her April 2010 “Luv Letter” for now.  More on his legacy later!

Japan Women’s Open Friday: Chie Arimura and Erika Kikuchi Take Lead; Mika Miyazato 1 Back

Chie Arimura’s had a frustrating 2 years on the course as she’s been trying to adjust to the rigors of LPGA competition and travel, not to mention life away from Japan.  Her troubles had even extended to her 2 visits to the JLPGA this year, where she had failed to break 70 in 6 rounds–and even missed the cut last week.  So today’s 6-birdie 67 at the Japan Women’s Open must have been particularly satisfying.  Not only did it allow the 26-year-old to move to the top of the leaderboard with 25-year-old Erika Kikuchi (70) at -6, it also kept her 1 shot ahead of former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin (68), 2-time JWO champion Mika Miyazato (70), veteran star Mi-Jeong Jeon (69), and youngsters Ai Suzuki (71), Hiroko Azuma (72), and Haruka Kudo (70) on a day when Yuri Fudoh, Miki Saiki, Ayako Uehara, and Harukyo Nomura missed the cut and Momoko Ueda fought back to make it on the number.

There are plenty of other great golfers within striking distance of Arimura and Kikuchi at the halfway point of the biggest tournament in women’s golf in Japan and the JLPGA’s 2nd major of 2014.  Money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee is only 4 back (along with Yumiko Yoshida), #2 Sun-Ju Ahn 3, #7 Teresa Lu 2 (along with Shiho Oyama), while Ji-Hee Lee is 5 off the pace, Sakura Yokomine 6, and Misuzu Narita 8 (along with Rikako Morita).

Even so, it’s great for Arimura to return to the spotlight.  Sure, Shin is trying to win her 5th JLPGA event in her last 10 starts, Mikan is trying to redeem her 2nd disappointing LPGA season in a row, Jeong is trying to jumpstart her 2014, Suzuki is going for her 2nd major victory in a row (having outgunned Shin, among others, at the Konica Minolta Cup a few weeks ago), Kikuchi, Azuma, and Kudo are trying to follow Suzuki in making their 1st JLPGA victory a major title, and Ueda would be right in this except for a quad and a double in her 1st round.  But being in contention on the weekend in the biggest tournament of the year could be just what Arimura needs to regain her confidence.  I saw nothing wrong with her game when I followed her at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.  Maybe today is just the spark she needed!

Konica Minolta Cup Friday: Ai Suzuki’s 67 Gives the 20-Year-Old a 4-Shot Lead

Nitori Ladies Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Gets 3rd Victory in Last 6 Starts

Ji-Yai Shin is known as the Final Round Queen, but after making 9-straight pars to start her round today at the Nitori Ladies, she had opened the door to JLPGA money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee and 5-time winner Saiki Fujita.  Lee, playing 2 groups ahead of Shin and Fujita, followed up a 1st-hole birdie with 3 in a row later on the front to catch her at -6.  Fujita then caught fire late on the front, with 3 birdies in a 4-hole stretch to join Shin and Lee.  Shin just kept making pars on the back, too, parring 10, 11, and 12 to stay at -6, which was enough to put pressure on Lee, who bogeyed the par-5 12th and the par-3 13th, and Fujita, who bogeyed the par-4 11th and the 12.  When Shin birdied 13 to offset Lee’s birdie on 15 and Fujita’s on the same hole as her, she had opened up a 2-shot lead on them, which she extended to 3 with a birdie of her own on 15.  When she parred out to finish at -8 and they parred out to end their week at -5, Shin had earned her 3rd JLPGA victory of 2014–and in her last 6 starts–as well as her 8th overall title on tour.

With her win, Shin moves into the top 4 on the JLPGA money list, but Lee’s runner-up finish enabled her to extend her lead on everyone except Shin.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥68.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥60.66M
6. Erina Hara ¥48.07M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.82M
9. Esther Lee ¥40.73M
10. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥39.54M
11. Rikako Morita ¥37.11M
12. Lala Anai ¥36.01M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.32M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥33.78M
15. Shiho Oyama ¥32.35M
16. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
17. Momoko Ueda ¥31.17M
18. Saiki Fujita ¥30.47M
19. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M

20. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
21. Na-Ri Lee ¥27.52M
22. Mayu Hattori ¥26.52M
23. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
24. Yumiko Yoshida ¥23.42M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥22.92M
26. Asako Fujimoto ¥22.41M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
28. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
29. Junko Omote ¥21.05M
30. Megumi Kido ¥20.80M
31. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥20.13M
33. Mamiko Higa ¥20.11M
34. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
35. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.79M
37. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
38. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
39. Kotono Kozuma ¥17.54M
40. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
41. Miki Saiki ¥16.28M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.75M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.87M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M

Yumiko Yoshida and Shiho Oyama were the only other players to finish under par this week.  Let’s see if Yoshida can continue her strong play next week at the Golf 5 Ladies and successfully defend her title.  I’m not seeing any of the top 3 on the money list in the field list, so it’s looking like Shin has a good shot at passing Narita and making it an all-Korean top 3 on the JLPGA this time next Sunday!

Nitori Ladies Set-Up: Ji-Yai Shin Takes 2-Shot Lead into Final Round

Even as Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, and In-Kyung Kim are getting their grooves back on the LPGA, their contemporary Ji-Yai Shin has rejoined her former KLPGA rival Sun-Ju Ahn on the JLPGA and seems to have found something this summer.  Despite a WD last week, she has 2 wins and 4 top 10s in her last 5 starts on tour and heading into tomorrow’s final round she finds herself leading the Nitori Ladies by 2 shots over Saiki Fujita and Yukari Nishiyama and 4 shots over money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee, Ritsuko Ryu, Lala Anai, and 15-year-old amateur Hina Arakaki.  A 6-birdie 67 on Friday gave Shin the lead on Fujita, which she maintained today with a 3-birdie 71, plus a walkoff double by Nishiyama.

With only 12 golfers at par or better, with the cut line falling all the way down the leaderboard to +7 (which saved last year’s money-list title-holder Rikako Morita), and with slow starts from last week’s winner Momoko Ueda (+4), last year’s Rookie of the Year Mamiko Higa (+4), and International Crown magician Sakura Yokomine (+3), the impressiveness of Shin’s performance thus far this week comes into even sharper focus.  A victory tomorrow would make it 8 JLPGA wins for Shin and vault her into the elite in the women’s game in 2014, as nobody has taken more than 3 worldwide titles yet this season.  Let’s see if she can do it!

Portland Classic Friday: In-Kyung Kim Rolls to -12 through 1st 36 Holes

Coming into this week, In-Kyung Kim was averaging 2.81 birdies per round on the LPGA, but she did blow away the LET field at the Ladies European Masters the 1st week of July when she finished at -18.  So far through 36 holes at the Portland Classic, Inky is playing like it’s early July again, as she’s made 14 birdies and has gotten to -12.  But there are many fellow players in the LPGA’s Rebel Alliance who are looking to make the next 36 holes as pressure-packed for her as possible–plus the LPGA’s Royals are making something of a move, as well.

Leading the Royals charge today was So Yeon Ryu, who fired an 8-birdie 66, improving her putts taken from 34 yesterday to 25 today and moving to -8.  Next in line was Suzann Pettersen, who birdied 4 holes in a row late in her round today for a total of 5 birdies in her last 7 holes as she finished the front (her back) and got to -6, catching fellow Royals Anna Nordqvist (71) and Chella Choi (70), who both needed late comebacks to get under par on the day.  And Shanshan Feng put together a 6-birdie 67 with only 24 putts (10 fewer than yesterday’s round) to join Na Yeon Choi (69) at -5.

But once again the Rebels outdid the Royals when it came to going low.  Mi Jung Hur‘s bogey-free 65 not only tied Inky’s opening round, but also matched Carlota Ciganda, who made 4 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the front and turned around and made 4 more in her 1st 6 holes on the back for a 65 of her own today.  Hur and Ciganda caught fellow Rebel Laura Diaz, who shot a 68 to extend her bogey-free run to 36 holes and counting, at -9, only 3 shots behind Inky.  It looked for awhile like 65 shooters Inky, Hur, and Ciganda would be eclipsed by rookie Jaye Marie Green, who found her Q-School form today and was -8 through her 1st 17 holes, but a walkoff double bogey forced her to accept a 66 that got her to -6.  Tiffany Joh birdied 5 of her 1st 8 holes to get to -6 for the week much earlier in the day, but stayed there for the next 10 holes, while Ji Young Oh also took advantage of the front, but for her it was a late charge over her last 9 holes–a 5-birdie 31–that brought her to -6.  Beatriz Recari, who like Ciganda can make a claim to LPGA Royalty-in-Waiting thanks to their role in Team Spain’s taking of the International Crown, but who like Ciganda has not had a very good 2014 in stroke-play events, ended up 1 shot behind that Rebel trio at -6.  Like Green, Recari has the 18th hole to blame for having to accept a 66 today; she made her lone bogey of the day there as she made a turn.  Because of that, she’s tied with another Euro who just fell short of making a claim to LPGA Royalty when she lost last year’s Rookie of the Year race by a single point, Caroline Masson, whose lone blemish came at the very start of her round, but who rallied for a 6-birdie 67.  They reached the halfway point in the tournament just 1 shot ahead of a pair of ex-Royals, Ai Miyazato (7-birdie 67) and Morgan Pressel (6-birdie 67), top 2 players in the Class of 2006 who have not had 2014s to write home about just yet.  Bringing the Rebel Alliance charge to a close were Xi Yu Lin (68), Mina Harigae (69), and Paula Reto (69), who ended the day at -8, 1 shot ahead of Amelia Lewis, who made a nice comeback to salvage a 71.

So with Rebels #1, T2, and T5 to T10 thus far, with the only Royals in the bunch at T5 and T10–or, to put this another way, Rebels outnumber Royals 14-4 in the top 18 after 36 holes–Hound Dog’s claim that weaker fields are more likely to result in surprise winners is halfway to gaining another data point in its favor.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this post with a look toward the cut line and its larger significance.  Even as Jane Park and Danielle Kang clawed their way to the right side of it, Sandra Gal, Chie Arimura, and Harukyo Nomura fell on the wrong side of it.  It’s hard to be a Rebel on the LPGA, but it’s even harder to stay one.  Even players who have been having really good 2014s like Meena Lee and Jenny Shin couldn’t make the cut this week, nor could future stars like Charley Hull and Yueer Cindy Feng.  It reminds us that all these players put it on the line every week–or as often as they can–for as long as they can.  So it’s particularly gratifying to report that Jeong Jang (-3) and Hee-Won Han (+1) made the cut in what will be their last professional event in the States.  I agree with Centurion that it would be wonderful for their last event before full retirement to take place in Korea this fall and heartily recommend and second his tribute to their competitive golf careers.  JJ and Hee-Won Mom will be missed!

Portland Classic Thursday: In-Kyung Kim, Jennifer Song, and Amelia Lewis Lead Rebel Alliance Charge

There were certainly a lot of surprises at and near the top of the Portland Classic leaderboard after the conclusion of Thursday’s round.  It’s hard to say which was the biggest one of them all, but In-Kyung Kim‘s bogey-free 65, which was sparked by 7 birdies in her 1st 13 holes, including 4 in a row to start the back 9, has to rank among them.  Once one of the top players in the world, Inky has only 1 top-15 finish all season, way back in late April.  I doubt whether anyone saw the bogey-free 66s from Jennifer Song and Amelia Lewis coming, either.  It was Song’s lowest round since the end of June and Lewis’s since mid-April.

Just a little further down the leaderboard, only a few of the LPGA’s Royals show up–such as Anna Nordqvist (bogey-free 67) and Chella Choi (68 with a double)–it’s mostly Rebel Alliance.  From veterans like Laura Diaz (-5) and Juli Inkster (-4) to established players like Julieta Granada (-5), Mina Harigae (-5), and Karine Icher (-4) to newbies like Emma Jandel (-5), Paula Reto (-5), Jennifer Kirby (-4), Xi Yu Lin (-4), and Jacqui Concolino (-4), players we haven’t been used to seeing on or near the 1st page of the leaderboard this season are right there today.

Sure, it’s not like the Royals are out of this thing.  Lizette Salas (-3), So Yeon Ryu (-2), Na Yeon Choi (-2), and Suzann Pettersen (-1) did just fine today.  But of the 76 players at E or better, the ratio of Rebels to Royals seems much higher than usual for 2014.  It’ll be interesting to see whether this can continue over the next 54 holes.