ElleAir Ladies Open Sunday: Sakura Yokomine Wins for 1st Time in 2014, Becoming 2nd Golfer in JLPGA History to Break the Billion-Yen Barrier in Career Winnings

Sakura Yokomine’s 23rd career victory on the JLPGA may be one of her sweetest.  Not only was her win at the ElleAir Ladies Open her 1st of 2014, it may well be her last as a JLPGA member–at least for awhile–as she’s one of the favorites at LPGA Q-School’s final stage in early December.  Of course, she can go on to win the final event of the JLPGA season, the Ricoh Cup, next week.  But let’s stay in the present for now!

Yokomine entered the final round 2 shots behind 20-year-old sensation Ai Suzuki, who bounced back from a bogey on the 197-yard par-3 3rd with birdies on the 4th and 6th holes, both short par 4s.  At that point, Suzuki was -17 and led her playing partner, 23-year-old Miki Sakai, by 2 shots; Yokomine, the last member of the final threesome, was one more shot behind.   But around the time that Sakai birdied the 148-yard par-3 7th to pull within one shot of Suzuki, some players from a few groups ahead of them entered the fray.  Rikako Morita, last year’s money-list title-holder, was the 1st to catch Yokomine at -14, as she opened with a bogey-free 33.  Yokomine responded with back-to-back birdies to close out the front 9 and tie Sakai for 2nd at -16, but Morita had already moved to -15 with her 2nd birdie in a row, this one on the long par-4 10th.

But it was a burst by Teresa Lu, which began with an eagle on the short par-5 9th and continued with birdies on the short par-5 11th and the long par-3 13th, that made the final threesome pay attention to what was going on 3 groups ahead of them.  Combined with a pair of early birdies (and her lone bogey of the day on the long par-4 8th), Lu moved from -10 to -15 in the space of 13 holes.  And when Suzuki bogeyed the long par-4 12th to fall back to -16, in a tie for the lead with Sakai and Yokomine, Lu had gone from 6 down to 1 down.  Which was exactly where her playing partner Erina Hara got to when she made her 6th birdie of the day (against only 1 bogey) on the 338-yard par-4 14th, her 3rd in her previous 4 holes.

So with a few holes to play there were 6 golfers who could win this thing.  Lu was the 1st to strike, sprinting past Hara with back-to-back birdies to close out her round and become the leader in the clubhouse at -17.  (Both players dashed the hopes of Na-Ri Lee, who had birdied 7 of her 1st 13 holes to fly to -15 very early in the day, but fallen to earth with a double bogey on 12 and finished at -14.)  Right behind them, Morita followed suit with birdies on the 273-yard par-4 16th and 535-yard par-5 18th to join Lu atop the leaderboard.  And when Yokomine and Sakai both responded with birdies on the 385-yard par-4 15th–Yokomine by making a 30-footer–we had 4 players tied for the lead at -17, 1 shot ahead of Suzuki.

The tiny 16th hole proved to be the difference-maker, as Yokomine birdied it, Sakai doubled it, and Suzuki parred it.  When Yokomine parred out and Sakai finished bogey-birdie to tie Hara at -15, that meant that Suzuki needed to birdie out to force a playoff.  In the end, her walkoff birdie secured her a tie for 2nd place with Lu and Morita.  Yokomine’s bogey-free 68 proved just good enough to beat Lu’s 65, Morita’s 66, and Suzuki’s 71.

What’s more, Yokomine’s victory pushed her past the billion-yen mark in career winnings.  Yokomine joins Yuri Fudoh as the only 2 golfers in JLPGA history to accomplish that amazing feat.  Speaking of amazing feats, Sun-Ju Ahn’s top-10 finish was enough to secure her 3rd money-list title on the JLPGA.  This one was the hardest for her, as she played through severe pain in her right wrist since the last week of October to hold off Bo-Mee Lee and Ji-Yai Shin.

So congratulations to Yokomine and Ahn.  Here’s how the JLPGA money list looks heading into the Ricoh Cup:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥152.56M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥118.58M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥100.44M
4. Teresa Lu ¥98.17M
5. Misuzu Narita ¥95.23M
6. Miki Sakai ¥91.90M
7. Shiho Oyama ¥79.29M
8. Na-Ri Lee ¥77.45M
9. Erina Hara ¥74.96M
10. Momoko Ueda ¥70.60M
11. Ayaka Watanabe ¥65.72M
12. Ai Suzuki ¥59.97M
13. Esther Lee ¥59.01M
14. Sakura Yokomine ¥57.89M
15. Rikako Morita ¥55.18M
16. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥54.80M
17. Lala Anai ¥51.29M
18. Ritsuko Ryu ¥47.75M
19. Yumiko Yoshida ¥46.68M
20. Ji-Hee Lee ¥43.08M
21. Kotono Kozuma ¥41.80M
22. Junko Omote ¥40.51M
23. Erika Kikuchi ¥40.27M
24. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥39.72M
25. Saiki Fujita ¥38.94M
26. Mami Fukuda ¥37.06M
27. Kaori Ohe ¥35.78M
28. Asako Fujimoto ¥32.45M
29. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
30. Phoebe Yao ¥31.35M
31. Mayu Hattori ¥30.32M

32. Soo-Yun Kang ¥29.53M
33. Rui Kitada ¥29.39M
34. Yoko Maeda ¥29.21M
35. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥28.43M
36. Na-Ri Kim ¥28.21M
37. Megumi Kido ¥27.89M
38. Hikari Fujita ¥27.14M
39. Yukari Baba ¥26.44M
40. Rumi Yoshiba ¥25.74M
41. Akane Iijima ¥23.32M
42. Da-Ye Na ¥23.06M
43. Yukari Nishiyama ¥23.03M
44. Natsuka Hori ¥22.60M
45. Mamiko Higa ¥22.44M
46. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
47. Megumi Shimokawa ¥19.74M
48. Miki Saiki ¥18.67M
49. Eun-Bi Jang ¥18.14M
50. Ji-Woo Lee ¥17.61M

Next week’s event, the Ricoh Cup, is the last major of the JLPGA season, in addition to being its season-ending tournament.  It features this year’s winners, anyone in the the top 25 on the tour money list without a win, anyone in the top 25 of the Rolex Rankings who hasn’t otherwise qualified and wants to participate, and any Japanese player with a win on the LPGA.  That means that teenager Minami Katsu and world #1 Inbee Park will be competing against the JLPGA’s finest!

CME Group Tour Championship Weekdays: Julieta Granada and Carlota Ciganda Step Up

With the top golfers on the LPGA apparently feeling the pressure of playing for $1.5M and having trouble dealing with the changeable winds and slower greens at Tiburon this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, the door is slightly ajar for some unsung heroes to make like Christina Kim and make a statement at the end of 2014.  Julieta Granada has been dinking her way around the course, while Carlota Ciganda has been bombing her ways around it, but despite the 55-yard difference in average driving distance between them thus far this week, they find themselves tied for the lead at -7.

With 36 holes still to be played, Granada and Ciganda have to keep the pedal to the metal on the weekend.  The hottest golfer in the field, Morgan Pressel, is -9 over her last 26 holes after suffering a birdieless +3 start over her 1st 10 holes of the week, which puts her 1 behind the co-leaders,  Michelle Wie has also bounced back from a rocky start, going -6 over her last 19 holes (which featured an eagle on the par-4 7th) and shooting up the leaderboard to tie Sandra Gal and Sarah Jane Smith at -5.  Chella Choi eagled the par-5 17th to catch So Yeon Ryu, whose double bogey from the sand on the par-3 16th on Thursday and walkoff bogey on Friday dropped her to -4.

But what of the LPGA’s Big 3?  World #1 Inbee Park languishes at +1 after going +3 and birdieless over her last 10 holes on Friday.  Stacy Lewis, the leader in every major LPGA year-long race, had to battle back to -1 for the week after going +3 and birdieless over her 1st 16 holes yesterday.  That’s 1 shot worse than Lydia Ko, who’s been missing a lot of greens and scrambling her way to 7 birdies and 5 bogeys over her 1st 36 holes.

With Shanshan Feng, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, In-Kyung Kim, and Caroline Hedwall lingering with Lewis at -1, there’s still plenty of time for them to make a big move.  It’s probably too late for Mi Jung Hur (+6), Karrie Webb (+4), Pornanong Phatlum (+4), and Paula Creamer (+3), though.

With the big storm over and the big thaw about to begin, I’m hoping I’ll actually be able to relax and watch some golf today instead of spending 11 hours shovelling, clearing off my roof, and helping my neighbors, as I did yesterday.  Still have to clear the snow off my garage and go foraging with the family once the driving ban is lifted in the Village of Hamburg, however.  Maybe Sunday!

Fujitsu Ladies Sunday: Sun-Ju Ahn Prevails Over Sakura Yokomine and Erika Kikuchi in Playoff

Sun-Ju Ahn got her 2nd JLPGA victory in a row, bringing her season total to 5 and career total to 18, by triumphing over Sakura Yokomine and Erika Kikuchi with a birdie on the 1st playoff hole that earned her the Fujitsu Ladies title.

The golfer I’m trying to get everyone to recognize as “Knockout” saved her best punch for last, but for a long time it looked like she had thrown away the tournament.  When Ahn made 3 bogeys in a 5-hole stretch midway through the front 9, she dropped to -9 and gave the lead to Kikuchi, who kept it even after bogeying the 193-yard par-3 8th to fall back to -10.  But after Ahn and Kikuchi both birdied the 533-yard par-5 10th, and Kikuchi bogeyed the 405-yard par-4 11th, they found themselves tied for the lead at -10.  Then, even as Ahn stalled, Kikuchi and Yokomine went on runs:  Kikuchi birdied 3 of her next 5 holes, while Yokomine got off her 15-hole par train (dating back to the end of yesterday’s round) with birdies on 14, 15, and 16.  At that point, Kikuchi was -13, Yokomine was -12, and Ahn, who birdied the par-5 16th, as well, was -11.  But Kikuchi and Yokomine bogeyed 17 and Kikuchi, needing a par to win, bogeyed it.  We had a playoff, and the rest is history.

Even though it ended up being a 3-player race to the finish, a few other players had the chance to crash the party.  Asako Fujimoto got it to -9 with 12 holes to play, but was +2 and birdieless the rest of the way to settle for T5 at -7 with Rikako Morita and Soo-Yun Kang.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot was -9 with 8 to go, but bogeyed 11, 17, and 18 to fall to T8 at -6 with Megumi Kido.  Teresa Lu’s bogey-free 69 earned her a solo 4th at -8, but as 2 of her birdies came in the last 3 holes, it really was too little, too late to put any pressure on Ahn, Yokomine, and Kikuchi.  The visiting Mika Miyazato (71, E) and Ai Miyazato (74, +2) were never factors.

Ahn’s win made her the fastest player in JLPGA history to break the 600 million yen barrier, beating Yokomine’s record by 48 starts.  It also extended her lead on the tour money list.

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥136.09M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥110.27M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥96.59M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥91.57M
5. Teresa Lu ¥84.34M
6. Miki Sakai ¥83.89M
7. Na-Ri Lee ¥69.39M
8. Erina Hara ¥59.05M
9. Esther Lee ¥55.06M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥53.76M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥52.76M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥50.25M
13. Lala Anai ¥48.41M
14. Rikako Morita ¥46.17M
15. Ritsuko Ryu ¥43.86M
16. Ai Suzuki ¥43.35M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥41.13M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥39.55M
19. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥37.86M
20. Erika Kikuchi ¥34.97M
21. Sakura Yokomine ¥33.89M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥33.39M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥32.16M
24. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
25. Phoebe Yao ¥30.40M
26. Mami Fukuda ¥30.05M
27. Mayu Hattori ¥29.60M

28. Yumiko Yoshida ¥29.34M
29. Junko Omote ¥29.01M
30. Asako Fujimoto ¥26.85M
31. Hikari Fujita ¥26.71M
32. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥25.68M
33. Soo-Yun Kang ¥24.16M
34. Rumi Yoshiba ¥23.92M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥23.63M
36. Megumi Kido ¥23.62M
37. Na-Ri Kim ¥22.53M
38. Yukari Baba ¥22.47M
39. Mamiko Higa ¥21.42M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥21.31M
41. Rui Kitada ¥20.94M
42. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
43. Akane Iijima ¥20.01M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥19.29M
45. Miki Saiki ¥18.22M
46. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.82M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥17.47M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥17.36M
49. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥16.24M
50. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.97M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies, which Sakura Yokomine won last year.  Bo-Mee Lee and Ji-Yai Shin return to a very different tour than the one they took a break from.  Let’s see if they fare better against Ahn’s knockout punches than the Miyazatos and everyone else did this week!

Stanley Ladies Sunday: Sun-Ju Ahn Fires Bogey-Free 66 to Win for 4th Time in 2014 and 17th Time on JLPGA

Sun-Ju Ahn made up 7 shots on Ji-Hee Lee over the final 7 holes of the Stanley Ladies on her way to a bogey-free 66 and a 2-shot victory, her 4th of 2014 and 17th on the JLPGA.  It’s the 2nd time this season Ahn fired a Sunday 66 to seal the deal and it’s the 1st time this year she’s led the tour money list.  Talk about living up to the “Knockout” moniker I bestowed on her in June!

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥121.69M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥110.27M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥96.59M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥90.84M
5. Miki Sakai ¥82.36M
6. Teresa Lu ¥79.54M
7. Na-Ri Lee ¥68.66M
8. Erina Hara ¥58.14M
9. Esther Lee ¥55.06M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥53.03M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥50.56M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥49.34M
13. Lala Anai ¥47.50M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥43.13M
15. Rikako Morita ¥42.79M
16. Ai Suzuki ¥42.17M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥40.73M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥39.55M
19. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥37.86M
20. Saiki Fujita ¥33.39M
21. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
22. Kaori Ohe ¥30.99M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥29.60M

24. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
25. Erika Kikuchi ¥28.57M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥27.97M
27. Junko Omote ¥27.63M
28. Sakura Yokomine ¥27.49M
29. Mami Fukuda ¥26.66M
30. Asako Fujimoto ¥26.38M
31. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
32. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥24.95M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥23.38M
34. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.90M
35. Yukari Baba ¥22.47M
36. Na-Ri Kim ¥21.92M
37. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
38. Mamiko Higa ¥21.42M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥21.31M
40. Soo-Yun Kang ¥20.77M
41. Rui Kitada ¥20.41M
42. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
43. Akane Iijima ¥20.01M
44. Yukari Nishiyama ¥18.76M
45. Miki Saiki ¥18.22M
46. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.82M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥17.47M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥17.36M
49. Haruka Kudo ¥15.41M
50. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥15.33M

Next up is the Fujitsu Ladies, which Na-Ri Lee won last year when the final round was washed out.  As hot as Lee has been of late, Ahn will be the favorite coming into it, but she’ll have to deal with both Ai and Mika Miyazato!

Japan Women’s Open Sunday: Can 20-Year-Old Ai Suzuki Win Her 2nd JLPGA Major in a Row? Can Ji-Yai Shin Win for the 5th Time in her Last 10 Starts?

Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open Sunday: 23-Year-Old Miki Sakai Outguns 21-Year-Old Ayaka Watanabe

23-year-old Miki Sakai earned her 2nd JLPGA victory of 2014 and of her career by outgunning 21-year-old Ayaka Watanabe on the back 9 at the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open today.

A bogey-free 32 by Sakai got her to -7 for the week, which put her 1 shot ahead of Watanabe, who bogeyed her opening hole and parred the rest of the front, and a shot behind Watanabe’s co-leader, Teresa Lu, who made 2 birdies and a bogey in her 1st 8 holes.  Sakai, playing 3 groups ahead of Watanabe, Lu, and Sun-Ju Ahn (who stayed at -5 most of the day and ended up at -6 thanks to a walkoff birdie), proceeded to bogey the par-4 10th and par her next several holes.  But Lu joined her at -6 with back-to-back bogeys on 9 and 10, even as Watanabe began a roller-coaster ride on the back 9 that saw her make a grand total of 0 pars.  A birdie on 10 gave her the lead, but 3 straight bogeys dropped her all the way to -4.  Lu responded with back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 to return to -8, and the tournament seemed to be hers to lose.  And lose it she did with a double on the par-3 15th.  By then, Sakai had gone on a run of her own, finishing birdie-par-birdie to become the leader in the clubhouse at -8.  At that point, she had a 2-shot lead on Lu and a 4-shot lead on Watanabe, who had birdied the par-5 14th and bogeyed 15.  Lu parred out, but Watanabe finished with 3 birdies in a row to fall just short of forcing a playoff with Sakai.

In the end, Junko Omote’s bogey-free 33 on the back allowed her to catch Lu and Ahn at -6 in a tie for 3rd, while defending champion Na-Ri Lee birdied 4 of her last 11 holes to snag a T6 at -5 with Kaori Ohe (who fired the low round of the day while starting on the back, a 7-birdie 67) and the unheralded Tomoko Kanai.  Last year’s money-list title-holder Rikako Morita got a top 10, as did fellow youngsters Natsuka Hori, Erika Kikuchi, and Mami Fukuda.  Bigger names finished further back:  Sakura Yokomine, Momoko Ueda, and Yumiko Yoshida at -2, Ji-Hee Lee, Shiho Oyama, and Misuzu Narita at -1, Mi-Jeong Jeon and Bo-Mee Lee at +1, and Yuri Fudoh at +3.

As a result, there was a little shake-up on the JLPGA money list.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥105.34M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥94.71M
3. Ji-Yai Shin ¥92.53M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥86.73M
5. Miki Sakai ¥75.15M
6. Esther Lee ¥52.54M
7. Teresa Lu ¥51.54M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥51.41M
9. Erina Hara ¥51.23M
10. Na-Ri Lee ¥50.29M
11. Lala Anai ¥46.45M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥45.28M
13. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥44.56M
14. Rikako Morita ¥39.54M
15. Ritsuko Ryu ¥39.29M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥37.45M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥36.50M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥33.37M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥31.58M
22. Kaori Ohe ¥29.57M

23. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
24. Mayu Hattori ¥28.41M
25. Junko Omote ¥26.86M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥26.42M
27. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
28. Sakura Yokomine ¥25.37M
29. Asako Fujimoto ¥24.61M
30. Erika Kikuchi ¥24.51M
31. Mami Fukuda ¥23.75M
32. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.92M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥22.85M
34. Yukari Baba ¥22.47M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
36. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
37. Na-Ri Kim ¥21.21M
38. Mamiko Higa ¥20.81M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥20.54M
40. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
41. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
42. Rui Kitada ¥19.22M
43. Akane Iijima ¥19.20M
44. Miki Saiki ¥18.22M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.82M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥17.33M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.92M
48. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.06M
49. Da-Ye Na ¥14.94M
50. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.67M

Next up is the Japan Women’s Open, the biggest tournament of the year on the JLPGA.  More on it soon!

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Sunday: Ji-Yai Shin Wins for 4th Time in Her Last 9 JLPGA Starts

The cliche may go that “when the cat’s away, the mice will play,” but it didn’t hold true on the JLPGA today.  With Bo-Mee Lee and Sun-Ju Ahn, the 1-2 players on the tour’s money list, both deciding not to play this week at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic, 22-year-old Mami Fukuda had a great chance for her best-ever finish and possibly even a win.  But when you’re being chased by #3 Misuzu Narita and #4 Ji-Yai Shin (who’s also a former world #1!), you’d better bring your A-game.  Fukuda did not, making an early and a late double that knocked her out of contention.

Maybe the cliche should go, “when some cats are away, other cats will play,” instead?  Because even as Fukuda fell from -10 to -7 with a birdieless 39 on the front, Shin birdied the par-3 6th and par-4 9th to move to -11.  That’s around the time former LPGAer Na-Ri Kim bogeyed her last 3 holes on the front in a row to fall back to -8 and Na-Ri Lee caught Rui Kitada at -9.  While Esther Lee was making a charge from 8 groups ahead of the final threesome to move into contention–her 5 birdies in her 1st 7 holes on the back got her to -11–Shin kept making pars.  That also opened the door to Na-Ri Lee, who birdied the par-4 10th and par-5 12th from 2 groups ahead of Shin’s to also move to -11, along with Kitada, who moved to -10 with a birdie on the par-3 11th.

Things got kicked up a notch after Esther Lee parred out to become leader in the clubhouse at -11.  Na-Ri Lee responded with an eagle on the par-5 15th to move to -13, which Kitada birdied to move to -11 and then Shin did the same to get to -12.  So it was a 3-player race over the final 3 holes to finish ahead of Esther Lee.  And who should win it but the Final Round Queen, who birdied the 194-yard par-3 16th and 331-yard par-4 17th to move to -14?  As first Na-Ri Lee and then Kitada parred out, all Shin needed for her 4th win in her last 9 JLPGA starts was a par on the 367-yard 18th hole.  When she did it, she had secured her 9th career JLPGA victory and joined Hyo Joo Kim as the 2nd 4-time winner in 2014 in the entire world of major-tour women’s professional golf.

She also moved to #2 on the JLPGA money list.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Ji-Yai Shin ¥92.53M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥86.06M
5. Miki Sakai ¥62.55M
6. Esther Lee ¥52.54M
7. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
8. Na-Ri Lee ¥47.84M
9. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
10. Lala Anai ¥46.45M
11. Ayaka Watanabe ¥45.25M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
13. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥44.56M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.35M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥36.51M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥36.01M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥33.05M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M

22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.80M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Sakura Yokomine ¥24.42M
28. Asako Fujimoto ¥24.23M
29. Erika Kikuchi ¥23.22M
30. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.92M
31. Rumi Yoshiba ¥22.85M
32. Junko Omote ¥22.66M
33. Mami Fukuda ¥22.45M
34. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
35. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
36. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.81M
38. Na-Ri Kim ¥20.64M
39. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
40. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
41. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
42. Akane Iijima ¥18.72M
43. Rui Kitada ¥18.55M
44. Miki Saiki ¥17.84M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥17.25M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥17.03M
47. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.92M
48. Nana Yamashiro ¥15.06M
49. Da-Ye Na ¥14.56M
50. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M

The Korean resurgence is a worldwide thing, as 5 Koreans are now in the top 8 on the JLPGA, while last years stars Rikako Morita, Sakura Yokomine, Yumiko Yoshida, and Miki Saiki are being left in the dust, along with returnee Momoko Ueda.  True, defending champion Yokomine charged into the top 10 today on the strength of a fine 67 and Saiki into the top 20 with a great 68, but they need to be getting themselves into contention down the home stretch with regularity if they want to have a shot at even the top 10 on the money list at season’s end.  

Next up is the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open, the last tune-up before the JLPGA’s 3rd major and biggest tournament of 2014, the Japan Women’s Open.  Looks like Shin is taking a break, but we should see Lee, Ahn, and Teresa Lu back in action.

Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Friday: Paula Reto Goes Low Again, Takes 4-Shot Lead on Stacy Lewis

It’s Crunch Time on the LPGA and Symetra Tour This Week!

The Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic and the Symetra Tour Championship this week will have a huge bearing on who keeps or gains solid LPGA status for the 2015 season and who will have to go to Q-School to improve or secure it.

In a nutshell, those who finish in the top 100 on the 2014 LPGA money list will be able to get as many starts as they want in 2015, as will those who finish in the top 10 on the 2014 Symetra Tour money list.  Those between #101 and #125 on this year’s LPGA money list will have a limited number of starts next year, and will probably choose to go to Q-School to improve on their status, while those who finish between #11 and #25 on the Symetra Tour money list will get a free pass into the final stage of Q-School and those who finish outside the top 25 will need to play in Stage II at the end of the month.  With that in mind, let’s review the LPGA and Symetra Tour money lists to see who’s on the edge.

Let’s start with the LPGA:

90. Jaye Marie Green $88.4K
91. Kelly Tan $88.1K [not in Yokohama field]
92. Alison Walshe $85.4K
93. Lindsey Wright $84.7K
94. Kristy McPherson $83.9K
95. Ashleigh Simon $78.3K
96. Yueer Cindy Feng $77.6K
97. Alena Sharp $75.3K
98. Paz Echeverria $75.0K [not in Yokohama field]
99. Jee Young Lee $74.8K
100. Joanna Klatten $72.7K

101. Alejandra Llaneza $66.1K
102. Lisa McCloskey $66.0K
103. Chie Arimura $62.8K
104. Hee-Won Han $61.1K [retired]
105. Paula Reto $58.4K
106. Becky Morgan $57.7K
107. Paola Moreno $57.0K
108. Rebecca Lee-Bentham $51.9K
109. Jennifer Kirby $51.7K
110. Felicity Johnson $50.8K

So let’s say someone wanted to guarantee she passed Echeverria.  A top-25 finish would be good enough for Llaneza or McCloskey, while Lee-Bentham, Kirby, and Johnson would need more like top-10 finishes.  A top-2 finish would be good enough to leapfrog anyone in the field into the top 100 who wasn’t already there, while a top 5 would be good enough for almost everyone.  The only question is how many players from outside the top 100 play well enough to make a move on those near the bottom of it.  To keep their fate in their hands, the most vulnerable players in the top 100–Simon, Feng, Sharp, Lee, and Klatten–need to at least make the cut in Alabama.

On the Symetra Tour, it seems to me that if the purse is the same as last year, then everyone from #8 Kendall Dye on up has already secured their card, no matter what happens this week.  (That’s why Yueer Cindy Feng is playing on the LPGA to improve on her #96 position there rather than defending her #6 position on the Symetra Tour money list).  But a top-5 finish from someone fairly far down the money list can have a huge impact on who makes the top 10 and top 25, particularly if those near the edges miss the cut:

9. Mallory Blackwelder $39.5K
10. Veronica Felibert $39.5K

11. Sara-Maude Juneau $36.5K
12. Lee Lopez $36.1K
13. Lindy Duncan $36.1K
14. Brittany Altomare $33.9K
15. Demi Runas $33.2K
16. Emily Talley $32.7K
17. Nicole Vandermade $31.9K
18. Olivia Jordan-Higgins $30.9K
19. Laura Gonzalez-Escallon $29.0K
20. Madison Pressel $27.9K
21. Maude-Aimee Leblanc $25.2K
22. Hye-Min Kim $24.9K
23. Daniela Iacobelli $24.2K
24. Jennie Lee $23.6K
25. Rebecca Artis $23.4K
26. Jean Reynolds $22.8K
27. Marta Silva $22.3K
28. Molly Aronsson $22.0K
29. Stephanie Na $21.3K
30. Therese Koelbaek $21.3K
31. Calle Neilson $20.1K
32. Megan McChrystal $20.1K [in Yokohama, not Tour Championship, field]
33. Kim Kaufman $19.6K [LPGA card already secured; fighting to make Asian Swing]
34. Casey Grice $19.5K
35. Caroline Powers $19.0K
36. Samantha Richdale $18.2K
37. Katie Kempter $18.1K
38. Madeleine Sheils $17.5K
39. Ashley Tait $17.3K
40. Garrett Phillips $16.1K

McChrystal has decided she has a better shot at improving dramatically on her #133 position on the LPGA money list ($21.8K) than even a win at the Symetra Tour Championship is worth.  Meanwhile, Cheyenne Woods (#58, $12.0K) and Kelly Shon (#71, $8.6K) basically need to win to skip to Stage III of LPGA Q-School, although Cheyenne might get lucky with a solo 2nd.
So keep an eye on these names this week!

Konica Minolta Cup Sunday: 20-Year-Old Ai Suzuki Becomes Youngest Major Winner on JLPGA

20-year-old Ai Suzuki made her 1st career top 10 on the JLPGA a major victory as she held off Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Na-Ri Lee, and Lala Anai down the stretch to break Ai Miyazato’s record and become the youngest winner of the Konica Minolta Cup.

The 1st player to put pressure on the youngster was Lee, who birdied 6 of her 1st 10 holes from 3 groups ahead of Suzuki, Momoko Ueda, and Kaori Ohe to move to -5 for the week.  But Suzuki responded with 4 birdies of her own in her 1st 7 holes to fight back to -7 with 10 holes left in the tournament.  In the group ahead of her Shin and Narita were playing catch-up, however, as Narita fired a bogey-free 33 to move to -5 and Shin also birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes to also get to -5.  But a double on 9 knocked the former world #1 back on her heels.  Even though a bogey from Suzuki a few minutes later that forced her to settle for an opening 34 dropped her back to -6, it was enough to extend her lead on her playing partners, as Ueda’s 36 and Ohe’s 37 left them at -3 with 9 to play.

When Suzuki made 6-straight pars to start the back, she put the pressure on her pursuers to chase her down, and most of them couldn’t handle it.  Ohe bogeyed 2 of her 1st 4 holes on the back and was out of it.  Ueda ended up shooting a birdieless 38 on the back.  Narita bogeyed the long par-4 13th to drop to -4.  Lee even bogeyed the medium-length par-4 14th to join her.  But Anai, playing from 2 groups ahead of Suzuki, birdied 3 of her 1st 7 holes on the back to catch them at -4.  As Lee and Anai parred in to become leaders in the clubhouse at -4, that’s when things got really interesting.

And Shin was at the heart of things.  She birdied the par-5 16th to make it 4 players at -4.  Even as she bogeyed the par-3 17th, Suzuki bogeyed the 16th to drop to -5.  And then, as Narita made her 3rd-straight closing par and Shin birdied the long par-4 18th to also finish at -4, Suziki birdied 17 to take a 2-shot lead on her pursuers into the final hole.  And it was a good thing she had that cushion, as she bogeyed 18 to finish at -5, just barely good enough to secure the victory over the #3 and #4 players on the JLPGA money list.

Speaking of which, with Bo-Mee Lee withdrawing during the 3rd round and Sun-Ju Ahn sitting this week out, the race for that title just tightened up!

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥84.53M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥78.13M
5. Miki Sakai ¥61.77M
6. Erina Hara ¥50.65M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Esther Lee ¥47.34M
9. Lala Anai ¥45.89M
10. Ayaka Watanabe ¥44.68M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥44.61M
12. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥41.96M
13. Na-Ri Lee ¥40.80M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥38.04M
15. Rikako Morita ¥37.79M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥35.37M
17. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.88M
18. Ai Suzuki ¥32.37M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥32.23M
20. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
21. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.91M

22. Phoebe Yao ¥28.43M
23. Mayu Hattori ¥27.93M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥27.12M
25. Hikari Fujita ¥26.31M
26. Yumiko Yoshida ¥25.47M
27. Asako Fujimoto ¥23.09M
28. Junko Omote ¥22.30M
29. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥22.24M
30. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
31. Kotono Kozuma ¥22.00M
32. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥21.72M
34. Erika Kikuchi ¥21.69M
35. Megumi Kido ¥21.42M
36. Mami Fukuda ¥21.37M
37. Mamiko Higa ¥20.45M
38. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
39. Soo-Yun Kang ¥19.26M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
41. Akane Iijima ¥18.36M
42. Miki Saiki ¥17.06M
43. Na-Ri Kim ¥16.64M
44. Eun-Bi Jang ¥15.24M
45. Megumi Shimokawa ¥14.65M
46. Yukari Nishiyama ¥14.43M
47. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
48. Da-Ye Na ¥13.99M
49. Nana Yamashiro ¥13.92M
50. Rui Kitada ¥13.35M

Next up is the Munsingwear Yokai Ladies Classic, where Sakura Yokomine secured her 20th career JLPGA victory last year.  All the top players on tour are on the most current field list, so expect tensions to be high as the tour enters its final 3rd of the season!

[Update 1 (11:45 am):  Ai Ai bangkokbobby‘s Ai to Ai pun on Ai breaking Ai’s record!  (Ai means love).]

Golf 5 Ladies Sunday: Shiho Oyama Wins for 14th Time on JLPGA

Shiho Oyama nursed her 6-shot lead on Misuzu Narita heading into the final round of the Golf 5 Ladies, matching her rival’s birdie on the par-5 2nd hole and closing out her own round with 15 pars and only 1 bogey as she finished where she started the day at -16.  That was good enough for a 2-shot victory over Narita, who birdied 4 holes between the 7th and 13th to put some pressure on the now-14-time winner on the JLPGA, but whose bogey on the par-5 16th helped seal the deal for Oyama.  The round of the day belonged to Na-Ri Lee (65), who vaulted into a tie for 3rd with Rumi Yoshiba (66) on the strength of a 12-hole stretch in the middle of her round that included 2 birdies on the front, an eagle on the short par-5 10th, and 4 birdies in a row before it was interrupted by a bogey on the par-4 17th.  Eun-Bi Jang also fired a 66, while Kumiko Kaneda moved into T11 thanks to a 6-birdie 67.

In the end, Yumiko Yoshida (73, -7, T11) was unable to defend her title and Ji-Yai Shin (72, -5, T18) was unable to make a big move on the idle money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee or #2 Sun-Ju Ahn.  So heading into the JLPGA’s major season, here’s what the money list now looks like:

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥104.86M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥75.15M
4. Ji-Yai Shin ¥68.75M
5. Miki Sakai ¥61.16M
6. Erina Hara ¥48.57M
7. Teresa Lu ¥47.34M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥43.22M
9. Shiho Oyama ¥43.15M
10. Esther Lee ¥41.74M
11. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥41.34M
12. Rikako Morita ¥37.11M
13. Lala Anai ¥36.51M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥35.58M
15. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥34.32M
16. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
17. Na-Ri Lee ¥31.42M
18. Momoko Ueda ¥31.17M
19. Saiki Fujita ¥30.77M
20. Ji-Hee Lee ¥29.45M

21. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
22. Mayu Hattori ¥27.02M
23. Hikari Fujita ¥25.53M
24. Yumiko Yoshida ¥24.44M
25. Kaori Ohe ¥22.92M
26. Asako Fujimoto ¥22.41M
27. Yukari Baba ¥22.10M
28. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.82M
29. Rumi Yoshiba ¥21.72M
30. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥21.33M
31. Junko Omote ¥21.26M
32. Megumi Kido ¥20.80M
33. Kotono Kozuma ¥20.54M
34. Mami Fukuda ¥20.53M
35. Mamiko Higa ¥20.11M
36. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
37. Natsuka Hori ¥19.24M
38. Erika Kikuchi ¥19.23M
39. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.79M
40. Akane Iijima ¥17.68M
41. Miki Saiki ¥16.28M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥16.25M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥14.09M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.87M

Next up is the Konica Minolta Cup, the 2nd major of the 2014 JLPGA season, where Bo-Mee Lee will be attempting to extend her lead on the money-list and defend her title.  The only big-name player choosing to play in the LPGA/LET’s Evian Championship instead will be Sakura Yokomine.  Should be a great showdown between the JLPGA’s finest, all of whom come into next week with a lot of momentum!

[Update 1 (12:36 pm):  bangkokbobby has started JLPGA blogging again, with recent posts on wins by Shiho Oyama, Ji-Yai Shin, and Momoko Ueda.]

It’s Crunch Time on the Symetra Tour This Month

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!

CAT Ladies Sunday: Momoko Ueda Defeats Rikako Morita for 10th Career JLPGA Victory, 1st Since 2011

Momoko Ueda birdied 3 of her 1st 4 holes in the final round of the CAT Ladies to erase Rikako Morita’s 3-shot 36-hole lead, then outlasted the 2013 JLPGA money-list title-holder in a tense seesaw battle.  It was the 10th JLPGA victory of the 2007 money-list title-holder’s career and 1st since the 2011 Mizuno Classic.  Be sure to check out bangkokbobby‘s post for further context and photos of all the contenders!

This tournament really did come down to 2 players, as nobody close to them could make a run and those who did started the day too far behind them to become a factor.  Teresa Lu, for instance, birdied 4 of her last 8 holes for a bogey-free 33 on the par-37 back-9, but couldn’t even catch this year’s money-list leader, Bo-Mee Lee, who finished 3rd at -6, 3 shots off the pace.  A bogey-free 32 on the front by Asako Fujimoto helped her catch Esther Lee at -3, but neither could chase down 20-year-old Ayaka Watanabe, who scattered 4 birdies and 4 bogeys through her round to finish alone in 5th at -4.  Mamiko Higa and Yeo-Jin Kang fired 70s to join Sun-Ju Ahn, Erina Hara, Natsuka Hori, and Kaori Ohe at +1, while Yumiko Yoshida’s and Megumi Kido’s 69s tied Ueda and Fujimoto for 2nd-lowest rounds of the day and earned them top 20s.  Journeywoman Kaori Yamamoto struggled to a 76, but still ended up with the 2nd-best finish of her career and 2nd-straight top-10 of the season.

So this really was a straight-up duel between Ueda and Morita.  After Ueda caught her, Morita struck back 1st with a birdie on the 158-yard par-3 5th, her 2nd of the day, to get to -9 and take a 1-shot lead.  The ex-LPGAer responded with a birdie on the 329-yard par-4 7th, but gave it right back with a bogey on the 378-yard par-4 8th, so Morita still led at the turn.  But not for long, for she bogeyed the 370-yard par-4 10th and 484-yard par-5 13th even as Ueda birdied the 182-yard par-3 12th.  With a 2-shot lead and only 5 holes to play, Ueda parred in while Morita could manage only 1 birdie, on the 563-yard par-5 15th.  The end result:  Ueda -9, Morita -8.

Lee’s 3rd-place finish left her just shy of the 100M yen barrier on the JLPGA money list.  Just as this tournament turned into a faceoff between Ueda and Morita, this year’s race to the money-list title is starting to look like a Lee-Ahn showdown.

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥99.33M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥90.51M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.87M
4. Miki Sakai ¥59.89M
5. Ji-Yai Shin ¥55.53M
6. Erina Hara ¥47.30M
7. Teresa Lu ¥46.57M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥42.42M
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥38.39M
10. Esther Lee ¥37.93M
11. Rikako Morita ¥36.57M
12. Lala Anai ¥34.08M
13. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.92M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
15. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
16. Momoko Ueda ¥30.03M
17. Shiho Oyama ¥28.50M
18. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M

19. Phoebe Yao ¥27.65M
20. Na-Ri Lee ¥26.99M
21. Mayu Hattori ¥26.20M
22. Hikari Fujita ¥25.13M
23. Saiki Fujita ¥24.94M
24. Kaori Ohe ¥22.39M
25. Asako Fujimoto ¥21.88M
26. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.42M
27. Yukari Baba ¥21.29M
28. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
29. Megumi Kido ¥20.33M
30. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
31. Junko Omote ¥19.91M
32. Mami Fukuda ¥19.73M
33. Yumiko Yoshida ¥19.57M
34. Mamiko Higa ¥19.52M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.73M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥18.02M
37. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
38. Akane Iijima ¥17.45M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥17.32M
40. Miki Saiki ¥15.88M
41. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.41M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.79M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥13.10M

As you can see, only a few million yen separate players between #25 and #39 on the money list, so leaps like Ueda’s from #32 to #16 are still entirely possible in the 14 events, including 3 majors, remaining on the JLPGA schedule.  Next chance for that to happen comes next week at the Nitori Ladies, which features most of the JLPGA’s finest.  Let’s see if Ueda and Morita can keep it rolling!

NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies Sunday: Bo-Mee Lee Defeats Shiho Oyama and Erika Kikuchi in Playoff for 8th JLPGA Victory and 3rd of 2014

Bo-Mee Lee collected her 8th career JLPGA victory today at the NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies, but it didn’t come easily.  Sun-Ju Ahn, the only player ahead of her of the money list, made an early charge from well back in the pack.  Her 6 birdies in her last 14 holes made her the leader in the clubhouse at -11.  Lee, meanwhile, started her final round with a bogey and 8-straight pars to fall back to -10.  That opened the door for Erika Kikuchi, playing several groups ahead of her, to make up all 4 strokes she started the day behind Lee–and more–with her opening 32 to move to -11.  And Kikuchi was just trying to keep pace with Saiki Fujita, whose bogey-free 32 on the front from the group ahead of her got her to -11 1 hole earlier than her.  Yumiko Yoshida didn’t light it up on the front, but she also made the turn at -10.  And out of the blue, 20-year-old rookie Nana Yamashiro, whose best previous finish was a T5 at the Yonex Ladies, kept within striking distance of playing partner Kikuchi and her co-leaders with a 2-birdie 35 that brought her to -9.  But Lee’s biggest threat seemed to be coming from her playing partner Shiho Oyama, who opened with a bogey-free 33 of her own to take the lead at -12.

So the tournament came down to the final 9 with a host of players fighting for the win.  Yoshida was the 1st to blink with a bogey on the 378-yard par-4 10th, which Lee then proceeded to birdie.  Fujita was the next to drop off the map with 2 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes.  But then Kikuchi made a move with birdies on the par-5 13th and par-4 14th to move to -13.  Yamashiro birdied the 13th but couldn’t keep pace with her playing partner, falling 3 shots behind with 4 holes to play.  Yoshida joined Yamashiro at -10 with a birdie of her own on the 13th, but neither player could male a big move the rest of the way.  And when Lee and Oyama got to 13, their birdies there moved them to -12 and -13, respectively.  They weren’t quite lighting up the back like Erina Hara (5 birdies in a 6-hole stretch to fly to -10) or Da Ye Na (birdie-eagle-par-birdie-par finish to end her week at -10), but when Lee birdied the 364-yard par-4 15th, we had 3 players at -13.  Kikuchi, having closed out her round with 4-straight pars, displaced Ahn as leader in the clubhouse, and when Oyama finished with 5-straight pars and Lee with 3, while Yamashiro could manage only 1 more birdie to join Ahn at -11, we had ourselves a 3-way playoff to determine the 2014 champion.  It was over almost before it started, as Kikuchi was in trouble off the tee and Oyama couldn’t get her approach close, but Lee stuck her approach to about 14 feet and sank the birdie putt for the win.

That win was not only Lee’s 3rd of 2014, but it also leapfrogged her past Ahn on the JLPGA money list!

1. Bo-Mee Lee ¥95.13M
2. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥89.58M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥69.48M
4. Miki Sakai ¥59.54M
5. Ji-Yai Shin ¥55.53M
6. Erina Hara ¥46.36M
7. Teresa Lu ¥42.97M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥39.42M
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
10. Esther Lee ¥35.68M
11. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥33.92M
12. Lala Anai ¥32.58M
13. Ritsuko Ryu ¥31.85M
14. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
15. Rikako Morita ¥31.29M
16. Shiho Oyama ¥28.50M
17. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M

18. Phoebe Yao ¥27.36M
19. Na-Ri Lee ¥26.70M
20. Mayu Hattori ¥25.27M
21. Hikari Fujita ¥24.90M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥24.60M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥21.45M
24. Sakura Yokomine ¥21.42M
25. Yukari Baba ¥20.74M
26. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.52M
27. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
28. Megumi Kido ¥19.77M
29. Asako Fujimoto ¥19.63M
30. Mami Fukuda ¥19.38M
31. Junko Omote ¥19.35M
32. Momoko Ueda ¥19.23M
33. Yumiko Yoshida ¥19.02M
34. Mamiko Higa ¥18.59M
35. Erika Kikuchi ¥18.33M
36. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.82M
37. Soo-Yun Kang ¥17.57M
38. Akane Iijima ¥17.06M
39. Natsuka Hori ¥16.38M
40. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
41. Miki Saiki ¥15.59M
42. Na-Ri Kim ¥15.41M
43. Yuri Fudoh ¥14.29M
44. Megumi Shimokawa ¥13.50M
45. Yukari Nishiyama ¥12.55M

Next up on the JLPGA is the CAT Ladies, which Sun-Ju Ahn won last year.  I don’t have time to scan the field list right now, as I have to head out to Pittsford for the final round of the Wegmans LPGA Championship!

Sadena Parks Wins on Symetra Tour

With her Sunday 62 and huge come-from-behind-victory in Albany, NY, Sadena Parks became the tour’s 2nd African-American champion and moved up to 6th on the Symetra Tour’s money list.  With 6 events remaining on the 2014 schedule, Parks is well behind 2-time winners Min Seo Kwak and Marissa Steen, as well as the consistent Yueer Cindy Feng (who uncharacteristically played as badly on Sunday as Parks played well), but she’s put almost $9,000 between herself and #11 Brittany Altomare.  With Selanee Henderson currently at #48 on the money list, Cheyenne Woods at #51, and Ginger Howard at #72, it’s looking more and more like they’ll have to make it to the LPGA via Q-School.  So right now Parks has the best odds of becoming only the 5th-ever African-American LPGA member.

I’d be going to this week’s event in Syracuse to see how all these players, along with my favorites Hannah Yun and Mitsuki Katahira, handle a Drumlins East course that I butchered this summer while trying to qualify for the NYSGA’s Men’s Amateur Championship, except that I’ve already committed to helping one of my best friends from grad school move into new digs in Austin, TX.  (And see if I can play a little better out of NY than in it.)  Too bad for me!  (Actually, I’m psyched for the trip!)

Century 21 Ladies Sunday: Bo-Mee Lee in da House!!

Bo-Mee Lee secured her 7th career JLPGA victory today at the Century 21 Ladies, but luck had nothing to do with it.  She flat-out outplayed her playing partners–the #1 and #3 golfers on tour, Sun-Ju Ahn and Misuzu Narita–by getting to -12 for the week with 7 holes to play and forcing the field to chase her down.  Narita had put herself in the hole early with an opening triple and back-to-back bogeys late on the back, but Ahn was -2 through her 1st 4 holes and -10 overall.  However, she then went cold, making 1 bogey and 13 pars the rest of the way.  Narita, meanwhile, ended the week at -5, tied with the player she beat in last week’s playoff, Kotono Kozuma.

The players who did take runs at Lee were too far back at the start of the day to be much of a threat to her.  Keiko Sasaki posted an early 69 to finish at -9, but 2 consecutive opening bogeys and a closing one kept her well behind Lee.  Asako Fujimoto was -10 and bogey-free with 3 holes to play, but finished par-bogey-par.  Natsuka Hori made 6 birdies in her last 10 holes, but it was too little, too late as she finished at -8.  Hikari Fujita posted a bogey-free 67 and Momoko Ueda made an eagle during her bogey-free 68, but they both finished in a big group at -7.

In the end, Lee made 6 pars and a bogey down the home stretch to cruise to a 2-shot victory.  It wasn’t enough to move her from #2 to #1 on the JLPGA money list, but she’s now within real striking range!

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥85.73M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥78.48M
3. Misuzu Narita ¥66.80M
4. Miki Sakai ¥56.30M
5. Erina Hara ¥40.04M
6. Ji-Yai Shin ¥39.33M
7. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
8. Ayaka Watanabe ¥37.61M
9. Esther Lee ¥34.99M
10. Teresa Lu ¥34.45M
11. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥32.17M
12. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
13. Rikako Morita ¥30.23M
14. Ritsuko Ryu ¥28.55M
15. Ji-Hee Lee ¥27.65M
16. Lala Anai ¥26.73M

17. Phoebe Yao ¥26.57M
18. Na-Ri Lee ¥24.84M
19. Hikari Fujita ¥24.28M
20. Mayu Hattori ¥23.30M
21. Shiho Oyama ¥22.23M
22. Sakura Yokomine ¥20.58M
23. Kaori Ohe ¥20.48M
24. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
25. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥20.02M
26. Yukari Baba ¥19.85M
27. Asako Fujimoto ¥19.27M
28. Mami Fukuda ¥18.59M
29. Junko Omote ¥18.29M
30. Momoko Ueda ¥18.18M
31. Mamiko Higa ¥17.80M
32. Saiki Fujita ¥17.63M
33. Rumi Yoshiba ¥17.44M
34. Megumi Kido ¥16.80M
35. Akane Iijima ¥16.52M
36. Soo-Yun Kang ¥16.01M
37. Natsuka Hori ¥15.63M
38. Kotono Kozuma ¥15.62M
39. Yumiko Yoshida ¥15.18M
40. Na-Ri Kim ¥14.29M

Next up on the JLPGA is the Meiji Cup, which Da-Ye Na won last year.  Amazingly, both Sakura Yokomine and Mamiko Higa are on the field list!  Wonder if they’ll take a week off if they can help Team Japan win the International Crown today!  Maybe not:  Teresa Lu and Onnarin Sattayabanphot are also in the field….

Congratulations to Mo Martin and Amy Yang!

Mo Martin’s 1st career LPGA victory and 1st major title also bumped her over the $1M mark in career winnings.  She moved up from #45 to #35 in my ranking of the top careers among LPGA rookies since 2005, as well.

Amy Yang joined the LPGA’s $4M Club at Royal Birkdale, too.  With Shanshan Feng, Meena Lee, Michelle Wie, Brittany Lang, Anna Nordqvist, Seon Hwa Lee, and Sun Young Yoo already in it, it’ll be interesting to see who’ll be next to join Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel in the $5M Club!

Nichi-Iko Ladies Sunday: Yeon-Ju Jung Outduels Sakura Yokomine to Take 1st JLPGA Title

Yeon-Ju Jung fired a bogey-free 65 today in the final round of the Nichi-Iko Ladies and held off Sakura Yokomine by 2 shots for her 1st-ever JLPGA victory.  The 22-year-old withstood 2 runs by the 22-time tour winner, 1st a 4-hole birdie train as Yokomine made the turn and then 2 birdies in Yokomine’s last 4 holes.  But even though Yokomine didn’t make a single bogey in the entire tournament, Jung put together some fireworks of her own.  She made her 3rd and 4th birdies of the day as Yokomine went on her 1st run, then birdied 3 of her last 7 holes to never surrender her lead.

Meanwhile, their playing partner Maiko Wakabayashi, who was looking for a wire-to-wire win of her own, fell apart just as Yokomine got it into gear.  Wakabayashi bogeyed 9, 11, 13, and 14 and broke her string with a double bogey on 15.  Despite a birdie on 16, she dropped all the way into a tie for 11th at -8 with defending champion Young Kim, Erika Kikuchi (who shot one of the best rounds of the day, a 6-birdie 67), and several others.  Wakabayashi’s troubles opened the door to a bunch of golfers who played as well or better than Kikuchi.  19-year-old Hikari Fujita eagled the 1st hole, shot a 30 on the front, and ended up in solo 3rd at -12 thanks to a fine 65.  Bo-Mee Lee and Megumi Kido shot 67s to catch Natsuka Hori (68) and Rumi Yoshiba (69) at -11.  Airi Saitoh continued her bounce-back from her opening 75 with a bogey-free 66 that got her to -10.  And Megumi Shimokawa shot a 67 despite triple bogeying the long par-4 5th.

So Jung follows last week’s 1st-time winner Miki Sakai in taking down a giant of the JLPGA.  Here’s what the tour’s money list looks like as a result:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥81.37M
2. Bo-Mee Lee ¥67.68M
3. Miki Sakai ¥55.38M
4. Misuzu Narita ¥55.31M
5. Erina Hara ¥38.54M
6. Onnarin Sattayabanphot ¥37.84M
7. Ayaka Watanabe ¥36.74M
8. Ji-Yai Shin ¥35.73M
9. Teresa Lu ¥34.45M
10. Esther Lee ¥32.35M
11. Yuki Ichinose ¥31.61M
12. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥30.91M
13. Rikako Morita ¥29.24M

14. Phoebe Yao ¥26.57M
15. Ji-Hee Lee ¥26.56M
16. Ritsuko Ryu ¥26.23M
17. Lala Anai ¥26.02M
18. Mayu Hattori ¥22.81M
19. Hikari Fujita ¥22.31M
20. Shiho Oyama ¥21.55M
21. Sakura Yokomine ¥20.58M
22. Na-Ri Lee ¥20.11M
23. Shanshan Feng ¥20.04M
24. Yeon-Ju Jung ¥19.79M
25. Mami Fukuda ¥18.10M
26. Mamiko Higa ¥17.80M
27. Saiki Fujita ¥17.63M
28. Kaori Ohe ¥17.59M
29. Junko Omote ¥17.52M
30. Yukari Baba ¥17.10M
31. Momoko Ueda ¥16.97M
32. Rumi Yoshiba ¥16.90M
33. Akane Iijima ¥16.52M
34. Soo-Yun Kang ¥15.63M
35. Yumiko Yoshida ¥13.93M
36. Asako Fujimoto ¥13.83M
37. Na-Ri Kim ¥13.72M
38. Miki Saiki ¥13.46M
39. Megumi Kido ¥12.83M
40. Natsuka Hori ¥12.54M

The JLPGA takes a week off for the Women’s British Open and returns the following week, where Yumiko Yoshida will defend her title at the Samantha Thavasa Ladies.  Good luck to the enrire Japanese contingent at Royal Birkdale!

Congratulations to Stacy Lewis, Miki Sakai, Florentyna Parker, Molly Aronsson, Alena Sharp, and Karin Sjodin

Sometimes you’re the giant, sometimes you’re the giant killer.  That was the story of the week for Rolex #1 Stacy Lewis, with a gigantic win on her home turf, and Miki Sakai, with a gargantuan takedown of the JLPGA’s #1 golfer, Sun-Ju Ahn, in a 2-hole playoff.

And then sometimes you’re the last player standing.  That was the story of the week for Florentyna Parker on the LET and Molly Aronsson on the Symetra Tour.  Parker followed up a rare double eagle (or albatross or whatever) with 4 straight pars to hold off fellow Brit Holly Clyburn (who bogeyed the 17th after eagling the same short par 5 as Parker).  Aronsson shot even par on a day when everyone ahead of her went over par.

But most often you need tons of persistence and perseverance.  That was the story of the week for Alena Sharp and Karin Sjodin, who broke the $1M mark in career LPGA winnings yesterday in NW Arkansas.

Congratulations to all!