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!

Recommended Reading: On Inbee Park’s 3rd LPGA Victory of 2014

So once again I was unable to watch any LPGA that I DVRed this past week, due to work responsibilities reaching a white-hot pitch, imoto’s interest in catching up on past seasons of Once Upon a Time, and my own interest in seeing Primus play live for what may well turn out to be the only time in my life.

As a result, I’m going to recommend some other people’s writing on Inbee Park’s victory at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship by 2 shots over Stacy Lewis:  Centurion‘s post over at LLLLet’s Golf!,  LPGA.com‘s notes and interviews, the AP‘s game story, Ladies on Tour‘s summary, Elizabeth Bethel‘s post over at ProGolfNow/Fansided, and Rick Woelfel‘s post over at Women’s Golf Center….

Enjoy!

Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Saturday: Stacy Lewis’s 64 a "Not So Fast, Inbee!" to World #1

Stacy Lewis fired a bogey-free 64 on moving day at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship to catch Shanshan Feng at -17, 4 shots behind leader Inbee Park, who made 3 bogeys today but offset them with an eagle and 4 birdies.  There are 7 other players double digits under par already, but only of them only Azahara Munoz has 3 rounds in the 60s, and she starts tomorrow’s round 8 shots behind the newlywed and world #1.

It’s probably too soon to say it’s a 3-player race, but after about 6 holes tomorrow, we’ll have a much better sense of how this will shake out.  There weren’t as many big numbers today as in previous rounds, but some really good golfers had some awful fronts (Michelle Wie) and backs (Lydia Ko).  Mirim Lee, for instance, would be much closer to the top of the leaderboard if she hadn’t closed out the front with 3 straight bogeys and made a bogey and a double in her last 4 holes.

Safe to say, though, that if Park, Lewis, and Feng can get off to good starts tomorrow, it’ll be almost impossible for anyone else to insert themselves into their shootout.  Go to bed early tonight and take advantage of “falling back” so you can get up early and watch the finale.  That’s my plan, at least!

Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Friday: Inbee Park and Mirim Lee Fire 62s; Park Leads Shanshan Feng by 3

World #1 Inbee Park followed up yesterday’s 64 at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship with a 62 to get to -18 and take a 3-shot lead on Shanshan Feng.  Park’s ten-under-par round included a bogey on the par-4 4th and an eagle on the par-4 8th, along with 9 birdies, while Feng’s 65 was marred only by back-to-back bogeys early on the back 9.

Even as Park and Feng battle it out for world domination, the Rookie of the Year race is heating up.  Mirim Lee fired a bogey-free 62 of her own today to catch Lydia Ko (65) and Line Vedel (68) at -10.  Despite birdieing 6 holes in a row on the front and 7 of her 1st 10, ROY race leader Ko offset her last birdie of the day on the par-3 14th with a bogey on the par-4 15th.  As Lee racked up 5 birdies on each side, Vedel had an up-and-down front, with 2 bogeys and 2 birdies, but turned it on during the back with 5 birdies (and a lone bogey) in her last 8 holes.  If either Lee or Vedel are going to put any pressure on Ko down the home stretch, they’re going to need to outdistance her over the weekend and challenge Park and Feng for the title.

That’s a tall order, especially when you consider that Azahara Munoz joins them at -10, recent world #1 and leader in every significant year-long LPGA race Stacy Lewis is at -9, 2-time champion Suzann Pettersen is at -7, and there are a bunch of golfers at -8 playing well enough to win this thing, including So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and Chella Choi.

Given how many big numbers have been posted already this week–Lewis doubled the par-4 9th, Michelle Wie made her 2nd triple of the week, this time on the par-4 4th (she’s well back at -6), Brittany Lang tripled the par-5 12th (she’s -7)–it’s too soon to think that the lead chase pack near -10 can’t chase down Park and Feng.  But it’s likely that somebody in that pack will need to put together a course record on Saturday or Sunday to really put some pressure on them.

[Update 1 (8:10 am):  Congrats to Danielle Kang for winning her 2nd car in as many weeks with her 2nd hole in 1!!!]

Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship Thursday: Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng Open with 64s

Coming off a 2nd-place finish to Hyo Joo Kim at a KLPGA major last week, new world #1 Inbee Park matched Shanshan Feng’s bogey-free 64 at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship today.  Park and Feng were able to do what So Yeon Ryu, Michelle Wie, and Na Yeon Choi were unable to.  Where Ryu got to -9 but finished bogey-double bogey, Wie took a triple on the par-4 15th and had to recover for a 68, and Choi had to scramble for a 68 of her own after doubling the par-4 11th, the 2 co-leaders played spectacular and steady golf throughout the day, with each putting on a burst of her own.  For Park, it was 5 birdies in her last 7 holes, while for Feng it was 5 birdies in her last 10 holes.

There were eagles galore today, as well.  Feng, Line Vedel (66), and In-Kyung Kim (67) eagled the par-5 6th, Ryu the par-4 11th, and Harukyo Nomura (66) and Stacy Lewis (67) the par-5 2nd.  So no worries for Lydia Ko (69), Suzann Pettersen (70), or my fave Ai Miyazato (who fought back from a horrific start for a 73).  Looks like it’s going to be all about getting on a roll and keeping on a roll this week!

Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies Saturday: Shiho Oyama Extends Lead to 3 on All-Star Lead Chase Pack

Shiho Oyama faltered a little midway through her moving-day round at the Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies, but bounced back with 4 birdies in her last 11 holes of bogey-free golf to move to -15 through 54 holes–enough to hold onto a 3-shot lead on the charging Yumiko Yoshida and Teresa Lu (who fired a bogey-free 66 and a bogey-free 67, respectively) and open up a 4-shot lead on JLPGA money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn and 21-year-old Ayaka Watanabe.  With Momoko Ueda at -10, Ai Suzuki at -9, Paula Creamer at -8, and Bo-Mee Lee at -6, Oyama has a great chance to eliminate most of her competition if she can make it 4 rounds in the 60s this week.  But Watanabe’s 63 and Yukari Nishiyama’s 65 yesterday have to give everyone in the field within 10 shots of the lead (and that includes last year’s money-list title-holder Rikako Morita and living legend Yuri Fudoh) just the slightest glimmer of hope.  Should be a great finish tomorrow!

So Now Who Do You Think Has Had the Best 2014 in Women’s Professional Golf? And Will?

So far, the title for best 2014 in women’s golf is down to 8 golfers.  Each has at least 3 worldwide wins on major women’s professional tours.  As impressive as Stacy Lewis has been, her difficulty in sealing the deal has opened the door to some golfers who have been racking up wins of late.  Still, Stacy’s still my #1 candidate:

Of course, a lot can happen down the home stretch, with 6 JLPGA, 5 LPGA and 5 KLPGA, and 4 LET events left to go before the year is out.  Maybe someone will leave all these players in the dust if she really heats up as the temperatures continue to go down.

In a nutshell, the best of the best women golfers in the world have not yet begun to fight!  Who do you think will prevail in the end?

LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship Weekend: Newly 19-Year-Old Kyu Jung Baek Gives Herself Birthday Present with Playoff Win Over Brittany Lincicome and In Gee Chun

Kyu Jung Baek turned 19 on October 15th but could celebrate her birthday only with an opening 74 at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship.  Yet with maturity beyond her years she figured out how to handle the winds and the Sky 72 Ocean course and her own balky back as she bounced back with rounds of 69, 68, and 67.  Her final-round back-9 31 included 5 birdies in a row and was so good that she even gave herself a chance to sink a curling downhill 6-footer on the par-5 18th for the win.  Even though she missed that putt, Baek succeeded in forcing her way into a playoff at -10 with Brittany Lincicome and 20-year-old In Gee Chun, who themselves closed with fantastic 66s to outdistance world #2 Inbee Park (68-67, -9), Michelle Wie (67-67, -8), Catriona Matthew (70-67, -8), Hyo Joo Kim (71-66, -7) and the rest of the 31 players within 5 shots of the lead with 18 holes left to play.  What’s more, she learned from that miss and from Lincicome’s birdie miss from a similar angle and distance on the 1st playoff hole.  Baek calmly sunk the downhill 5-footer to secure her 1st-ever LPGA victory and 4th KLPGA title of 2014.

I was able to cap off a great birthday by watching Baek catch fire on the back in the middle of the night.  In a week when heralded (and higher-ranked) under-22s struggled–Sei Young Kim hovered between 71 and 74 and finished T42 at +2, Ha Na Jang opened with an 80 and even 30-straight under-par rounds after it only got her back to T35 at +1, Lydia Ko could never get it going and finished T29 at -1, Minjee Lee was either awesome or awful (she sandwiched a 78 and a 74 between an opening 69 and a closing 64 to finish T24 at -3), and Kim needed that Sunday charge to finally get it out of neutral–Baek found her tempo and found the hole, making great chips, pitches, and sand saves when she needed to and taking advantage of almost every birdie opportunity she gave herself.  For the week, she took 15 putts fewer than Inbee Park, who has probably been the best putter in the world for at least the last 4 years.  Yes, Baek hit the fewest greens in regulation of anyone in the top 20 except Yoon Kyung Heo and Julieta Granada, but Heo had 120 putts and Granada 107 to Baek’s 102.  It’s that kind of putting that wins you tournaments on any tour.

Speaking of which, it’ll be interesting to see if Baek decides to take up LPGA membership next year.  Will she make like Teresa Lu and decide to stay on her home tour for at least another year?  For that matter, which KLPGA stars will decide by November 18th to sign up for the final stage of LPGA Q-School?  Ha Na Jang has already expressed an interest in doing this….

Looking ahead to the inaugural Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island, I’m hoping Michelle Wie will be able to play as planned.  As well as she scored on the weekend, I saw her shaking her right hand after many shots down the home stretch today.  Here’s hoping she’s healthy enough to keep teeing it up.  As excited as I am to watch LET winner this week Lee-Anne Pace tee it up against a bunch of Chinese up-and-comers (Xi Yu Lin, Jiayun Li, Yu Yang Zhang, Yuting Shi, Liqing Chen, star amateurs Jing Yan and Haruka Morita/Wanyao Lu, and new pros Simin Feng and Yu Liu) and veterans (Li-Ying Ye, Hongmei Yang, Hong Tian, and Panpan Yan) and LPGA stars (Lydia Ko, Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Azahara Munoz, Brittany Lincicome, Caroline Hedwall, Mirim Lee, Amy Yang, Morgan Pressel, and Ya Ni Tseng, among others), a tournament without Wie just doesn’t have as much buzz in the U.S. and world media.  Especially because Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen, and Na Yeon Choi are taking the week off to prepare for the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship (where Ai Miyazato got a sponsor invite!), the Blue Bay needs all the help it can get.

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!

Fujitsu Ladies Friday: Sun-Ju Ahn Fires 64 to Take 1-Shot Lead on Erika Kikuchi

Even as many of the top Korean women golfers in the world have signed up for the LPGA-KLPGA dual-sponsored event this week in Korea (and attended or helped out with Inbee Park’s wedding), Sun-Ju Ahn stayed on the JLPGA for the Fujitsu Ladies and rewarded herself with a 64 that even included a walkoff bogey.

She’s not alone at the top of the leaderboard, but Knockout doesn’t have much company there, either.  Erika Kikuchi birdied 5 holes in a row to start the tournament and had 8 through her 1st 13 holes, but she made 2 bogeys (and her 9th birdie of the day!) coming home and had to settle for a 65.  Onnarin Sattayabanphot fired a bogey-free 67 to keep the leaders within sight, Teresa Lu eagled the par-4 9th on her way to a 68, Rumi Yoshiba had a 6-birdie 68, and Phoebe Yao, Kaori Nakamura, and Mihoko Iseri stayed within 5 shots of Ahn.

In fact, the biggest other names in the field were pretty much left in the dust:

  • 70: Sakura Yokomine, Misuzu Narita, Erina Hara, Yumiko Yoshiba, Ayaka Watanabe
  • 71: Rikako Morita, Miki Sakai
  • 72: Ai Miyazato, Shiho Oyama, Mamiko Higa, Ai Suzuki
  • 73: Ji-Hee Lee
  • 74: Yuko Mitsuka
  • 75: Mika Miyazato, Miki Saiki, Natsuka Hori

Defending champion Na-Ri Lee had an unexpectedly tough day, opening with a birdieless 77.  Let’s see if she can bounce back tomorrow and if anyone can make a move on Ahn!

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!

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!

Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia Weekdays: So Yeon Ryu Races To Lead

Stacy Lewis‘s 65 was the low round of the day on Thursday at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, but she stalled Friday and a million players (it seemed) blew by her, led by Ayako Uehara‘s 63 and 64s by Lydia Ko and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.  But your leader at the halfway point is So Yeon Ryu, who went 66-65 to become the 1st player to get to double digits under par in the field.  Ryu has been so dialed in, each of her 4 bogeys came as quite a shock.  Let’s see if she can handle the lead on the weekend better than Lewis did last week.

I was sick yesterday and catching up today, but I did get to see most of the tv coverage and really enjoyed seeing so many good rounds.  But it would have been nice to see more of Azahara Munoz‘s 65 or find out that Sandra Gal matched it and Paula Creamer was only 1 shot worse, tied with Chella Choi.  I’m excited to see a lot of Uehara today and will be rooting for Danielle Kang and Na Yeon Choi to get it going and Jenny Shin and Shanshan Feng to move into serious contention.

Reignwood LPGA Classic Sunday: Can Stacy Lewis Do It?

LPGA/JLPGA Sunday Set-Up

Caroline Hedwall passed Stacy Lewis during moving day at the Reignwood LPGA Classic with 6 birdies during a 10-hole stretch but Lewis caught her at the finish line with 4 birdies in her last 6 holes to move to -13 as well.  Both lead Brittany Lang and Mirim Lee by 2 shots, Inbee Park and Caroline Masson by 3, Suzanne Pettersen, Sun Young Yoo, Belen Mozo, and Ilhee Lee by 4, and So Yeon Ryu, Mi Jung Hur, Chella Choi, Haeji Kang, and Yuting Shi by 5.  Hedwall’s looking for her 1st (and long overdue) LPGA victory, while Lewis is trying to chase down history (and showed incredible resilience after going +3 with no birdies over her 1st 12 holes).  Just missing a hole in 1 on the par-3 13th seemed to spark Lewis’s charge.  Can she pick up where she left off yesterday and keep the pedal to the metal today?

Meanwhile, on the JLPGA, Chie Arimura (75) and Mika Miyazato (74) succumbed to the pressure of trying to win the biggest tournament in women’s golf in Japan and moved backwards to -3 at the Japan Women’s Open, Miyazato with a 39 on the front and Arimura with one on the back.  That leaves them 5 shots behind co-leaders Ai Suzuki (69) and Yun-Jye Wei (68), 3 behind former world #1 Ji-Yai Shin, 2 shots behind Ah-Reum Hwang and Hiroko Azuma, 1 shot behind Sun-Ju Ahn, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Na-Ri Lee, Erika Kikuchi, and amateur Kana Nagai, and tied with Teresa Lu.  The 20-year-old Suzuki is looking to make her 2nd JLPGA victory her 2nd major title in a row, while the veteran Wei is looking for her 5th win on tour and 1st since 2010.

So we have some old-fashioned barn burners going on right now in Asia, with lots of great stories to share besides those of the dual co-leaders.  Come midnight, I’ll be sharing them with you as I not-quite-live-blog both tournaments!  Stay tuned!

Reignwood LPGA Classic Friday: Stacy Lewis to Field, "Catch Me If You Can!"

There are a lot of female golfers having great seasons, but Stacy Lewis is doing it on the biggest stage against the toughest competition while playing the most consistently excellent golf.  She didn’t have a particularly great ball-striking day by her standards yesterday to kick off the Reignwood LPGA Classic, but took only 24 putts on her way to a bogey-free 66.  Today, she responded to an opening bogey with 6 birdies the rest of the way, including 3 in her last 6 holes, to move to -12 and dare the field to catch her.

So far only Brittany Lang has really responded to Lewis’s challenge.  Her bogey-free 66 crammed 7 birdies into her last 12 holes.  It’s that kind of burst that’s required to keep up with the world #1 these days, and yet Lang is still 2 back at the halfway point.  Speaking of bursts, Suzann Pettersen birdied 4 of her last 5 holes to post a bogey-free 66 of her own and move within 6 of Lewis after a forgettable 1st day.  We’ll have to see if LPGA newbies Caroline Masson (7-birdie 68) and Mirim Lee (bogey-free 68) can keep the pedal to the metal; they moved within 4 of the lead, catching Caroline Hedwall (4-birdie 71) and Belen Mozo (5-birdie 69) at -8.  Meanwhile, So Yeon Ryu finally woke up, with 5 birdies in her last 13 holes and 3 in her last 4, but she’s 7 off the pace, as are Inbee Park and Chella Choi, while Mi Jung Hur (-2), Ya Ni Tseng (-2), Na Yeon Choi (E), and defending champion Shanshan Feng (E) are even further behind.

So huge advantage to Lewis heading into the weekend in Beijing.  She’s got a big lead on the biggest names chasing her while putting the pressure on those closest to her.  I don’t see any reason she won’t continue making at least 5 birdies a round.  She hasn’t missed a fairway all week, she has taken only 51 putts in 36 holes, and she’s talking like she has history in her sights.  A solid weekend allows her to extend her lead on the money list and in the Player of the Year race and Race to the CME Globe.  The time is certainly ripe for Lewis to rack up even more Hall of Fame points.  Can anyone stop her?

LPGA Hall of Fame Watch, September 2014 Edition

I usually wait till Thanksgiving and the end of the LPGA season to revisit an old Hound Dog LPGA question:  who will be the next player to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame?  But given how well the top golfers on tour have been playing, and how much is at stake during the tour’s 2nd Asian Swing and beyond, I figured I’d review where everyone with at least a halfway decent chance of making the Hall stands right now.

Here are the criteria from LPGA.com:

  1. Must be/have been an “active” LPGA Tour member for 10 years;
  2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following – an LPGA major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors; and
  3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows – one point for each LPGA official tournament win, two points for each LPGA major tournament win and one point for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned.

Check out how quickly Lorena Ochoa qualified in points in Hound Dog’s follow-up post–although he couldn’t have predicted then that she’d retire so soon, before actually meeting criterion #1!  So assuming Laura Davies and Ochoa will either play their way in or be voted in, who are the top candidates for entry right now?  

Check me on this, but here’s how I believe the points breakdown stands right now:

1. Ya Ni Tseng (23)
T2. Inbee Park (18)
T2. Cristie Kerr (18)
4. Suzann Pettersen (16)
5. Stacy Lewis (14)
6. Ji-Yai Shin (13)
7. Paula Creamer (11)
T8. Na Yeon Choi (9)
T8. Ai Miyazato (9) [the only one on this list who doesn’t meet criterion #2]

I’m going to go out on a limb here and officially doubt that Kerr will make it to 27 points.  And given how Shin, Choi, and Miyazato have stalled, it’s difficult to have much confidence that Park, Pettersen, or Lewis will catch Tseng very quickly–although given how well Pettersen has played in Asia in her career and how hot Park and Lewis are, who knows?  Tseng, meanwhile, needs to take a deep breath, realize that everyone runs into rough patches in a golf career, refocus, and learn to crawl again before she tries to run.

In short, everyone on this list has made a name for themselves, but it takes more than that to make history.  With so many 1st-time major winners this season, the only points that are left besides wins are for Player of the Year and for the Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average).  Right now, Lewis has sizeable leads in both races.  Let’s see if she can lock them up in the next 2 months!

Who Do You Think Has Had the Best 2014 in Women’s Golf Thus Far?

So far, the title for best 2014 in women’s golf is down to 8 golfers.  Each has at least 3 worldwide wins on major women’s professional tours:

Of course, a lot can happen down the home stretch.  Maybe someone will leave all these players in the dust if she heats up as the temperatures go down.  After all, the JLPGA has 10 events and 2 majors among them yet to be played, including this week’s Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open and next week’s Japan Women’s Open, the LPGA’s fall Asian Swing kicks off next week, and the KLPGA has a couple of majors coming up in October.
In a nutshell, the best of the best women golfers in the world have not yet begun to fight!  Who do you think will prevail in the end?

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 Saturday: Mi Jung Hur Catches Paula Reto at -15, 4-Up on Stacy Lewis and Kris Tamulis

Mi Jung Hur fired a 6-birdie 67 to catch 2nd-round leader of the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic Paula Reto atop the leaderboard at -15, 4 shots clear of Stacy Lewis (who was -4 and bogey-free over her last 14 holes) and Kris Tamulis (whose bogey-free 65 was the low round of the day).

Hur, who was tied with Lewis for the lead after the 1st round, fired a bogey-free 32 on the back to reel in the surprising South African rookie, who bounced back from a bogey on the par-4 4th, a double on the par-3 7th, and another bogey on the par-4 11th with birdies on 6, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 17.  Both Hur and Reto have hit 45 greens in 54 holes, but while Reto has made 21 birdies to Hur’s 18, Hur has taken 7 fewer overall putts than Reto.  If the 2 unlikely co-leaders keep this up tomorrow, everyone else will be playing for 3rd.

Moriya Jutanugarn squandered a whole bunch of great looks at birdie today, or she’d be right with Lewis and Tamulis, but T5 at -8 with Alison Walshe is nothing to sneeze at.  Me, I’ll be rooting for Ayako Uehara (-7), Ai Miyazato (-6), and Mika Miyazato (-4) to go low tomorrow.  The Miyazatos were both -7 late on the back, but Mikan tripled the par-5 17th and Ai-sama bogeyed the par-4 18th she had birdied the previous 2 rounds.  Uehara, meanwhile, has been unable to reach her high-water mark this week of -8 through 31 holes, as the 3 birdies she made on the front today were not enough to offset the 4 bogeys she made in that 14-hole stretch, and parring out on the back left her 8 behind the leaders.

As for the race for the top 100 on the LPGA money list, things aren’t looking too good for Paz Echeverria (DNP) and Jee Young Lee (MC), who look very likely to get passed by Joanna Klatten (#100, -1) and Reto (#105, -15).  With Becky Morgan (#106, -4), Karin Sjodin (#119, -6), Stacey Keating (#126, -6), Perrine Delacour (#127, -7), and Cydney Clanton (#145, -6) in the hunt for big paychecks, that means even Alena Sharp (#97, +1) and Yueer Cindy Feng (#96, +7) have to focus on making enough money this week to pass Ashleigh Simon, Kristy McPherson, and Lindsey Wright (all of whom missed the cut) to ensure they stay in the top 100.  Conceivably, 1 of those 5 players could be the odd one out if everyone behind them playing well thus far this week continues to do so tomorrow.

So there’s a lot at stake for a lot of players in the final round.  Reto is trying to become the 3rd rookie to enter the winner’s circle in 2014; Hur is trying to close a deal she’s been unable to the last few weeks and nail down LPGA victory #2; Lewis is out to widen her lead in the money-list, Player of the Year, and CME Globe races; Tamulis is out to graduate from journeywoman status.  And then a whole bunch of golfers are doing everything they can to avoid Q-School.  Should be very interesting!