Fredonia’s Got Talent!

Apologies to my regular readers for taking this mini-sabbatical from Mostly Harmless!  Probably the main reason I’ve been too busy to blog has been all the extra time I’ve been putting into meeting with my students this past month to consult with them on their critical essays and final research projects.  Although most of them chose not to do web authoring projects, a good number did; here are links to their work:

Please check ’em out while you’re waiting for me to finish grading!
[cross-posted at sf@SF and Citizen of Somewhere Else]

ElleAir Ladies Open Set-Up: Ai Suzuki’s 64 Lifts Her to Top of Dozen Players Double Digits Under Par

Ai Suzuki followed up yesterday’s 9-birdie 65 with a bogey-free 64 today to climb to the top of the heap at the ElleAir Ladies Open.  At -16, the 20-year-old major champion holds a 2-shot lead on LPGA Q-School-bound Sakura Yokomine (65), a 3-shot lead on Miki Sakai (66) and money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn (68), a 4-shot lead on Shiho Oyama (68) and Rui Kitada (71), and a 5-shot lead on Rikako Morita (66), Yumiko Yoshida (68), and 1st-round leader Momoko Ueda (70).  Esther Lee (66), Teresa Lu (68), and Erina Hara (69) round out the list of 12 golfers already double digits under par, while Bo-Mee Lee (66, -9), Ayaka Watanabe (66, -8), and Yuko Fukuda (66, -7) also made big moves up the leaderboard.

The only players not in tomorrow’s final round who you might have expected to be in the mix on Sunday are Misuzu Narita and Mamiko Higa, who missed the cut by a shot, Yuri Fudoh, who missed it by 3 shots, and Ji-Yai Shin, who didn’t tee it up this week.  Otherwise, we have a big showdown brewing between the vast majority of players near the top of the JLPGA money list.  Should be a great final round!

Around the World of Women’s Golf in 10 Easy Links

Between being figuratively snowed in at work and literally snowed in at home in Hamburg (where I’ve spent something like 12 of the last 48 hours shoveling), I’ve taken an unexpected sabbatical from Mostly Harmless, but I’m back!  Let’s catch up on what I’ve missed!

Christina Kim Prevails Over Shanshan Feng in Playoff at Lorena’s Place.  I’ve gotta be honest, I erased the 1st 3 rounds on my DVR after watching the intros and still have the last 6 holes of so of the final round to watch, but I’ll be sure to do so now that I finally gave in and saw that Kim won in a playoff over Feng!

Yoko Maeda Beats Satsuki Oshiro in Playoff for Early 30th Birthday Gift.  Maeda hasn’t even been on the JLPGA often enough to be called a journeywoman, but she bounced back from a walkoff bogey at the Ito-En Ladies that opened the door for Oshiro, who was also looking for her 1st-ever victory on tour, by closing it on the 1st playoff hole with a par.  Momoko Ueda finished 1 shot out of the playoff, which moved her into the top 10 on the money list.  Sun-Ju Ahn continues to maintain a near insurmountable lead on Bo-Mee Lee (not to mention Ji-Yai Shin, Misuzu Narita, Teresa Lu, and Miki Sakai, who all have either cracked the 100 million yen barrier this season or have a hope of doing it).

In Gee Chun Wins for 3rd Time on KLPGA in 2014.  Chun’s win came in dramatic fashion over the final 9 holes, but it was almost overshadowed by Kyu Jung Baek narrowly winning the Rookie of the Year race over Min Sun Kim and Jin Young Ko.  Also, Ha Neul Kim announced that she’ll be playing in the final stage of JLPGA Q-School (she finished T1 at one of the previous stage’s sites on 11/7).  Her last round in the last KLPGA event of 2014 may turn out to be her last start as a KLPGA member.

Xi Yu Lin Wins in Homeland on LET.  Congratulations to LPGA rookie Xi Yu Lin, who beat Charley Hull by 5 shots for her 1st-ever win on the LET!  Lin made her professional debut at the very same event in 2011, finishing 5th, so it’s fitting her 1st victory off the CLPGA came here, as well.

Sakura Yokomine, Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim, Charley Hull, Stephanie Meadow, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn, Su Hyun Oh Highlight LPGA Q-School’s Final Stage.  But check the field list:  there are a lot of current, former, and maybe future LPGAers on it!  Names like Lorie Kane, Birdie Kim, Chie Arimura, Vicky Hurst, Cheyenne Woods, Ju Young Park (Hee Young’s little sis), Alison Lee, Annie Park, Simin Feng, Ani Gulugian, Ginger Howard, and Madison Pressel are just a few that’ll stick out to die-hard fans of women’s golf.  It all starts the 1st week of December!

The LPGA’s Last Event of 2014 and the JLPGA’s Next-to-Last Are on Tap This Week.  Check out the pre-tournament notes and interviews for the CME Group Tour Championship (where season-ending race leader Stacy Lewis, world #1 Inbee Park, and 2014 Rookie of the Year Lydia Ko have the best shot at winning the $1M Race to the CME Globe) and live scoring for the ElleAire Ladies Open (where Momoko Ueda has jumped out to an early lead).

So buckle your seat belts, everyone!  (That’s something I’ve practically forgotten how to do, as The Constructivist Family has been housebound the last 2 days and we have no idea when the state of emergency or travel ban will be lifted!)  2014 is going out with a bang!

Mizuno Classic Weekend: Mi Hyang Lee Prevails in Classic Barnburner

21-year-old Mi Hyang Lee won the 2nd tournament of 2014 among major women’s professional tours by firing a final-round 63 in New Zealand and blowing past Lydia Ko, among others.  And she’s just won the Mizuno Classic, the 2nd of November–and her 1st on the LPGA–by blowing past 51-year-old Laura Davies, among others, catching Ilhee Lee and Kotomo Kozuma at -11, and beating them with a birdie on the 5th playoff hole.  With 9 players finishing at -10 and 5 at -9, it’s amazing that Lee could prevail, but somebody had to do it.  Here’s how it happened.

Lee had sprung into contention with a 2nd-round 67, but it wasn’t nearly the best round on moving day.  The JLPGA’s young star Ai Suzuki birdied her last 4 holes in a row (and 5 of her last 6) for a 64 that got her a share of the lead with Davies (67) and Ilhee Lee (66) at -9.  Na-Ri Lee birdied 6 of her last 11 holes to post a 65 that got her into solo 7th, 2 shots off the lead and 1 behind Mi Hyang Lee, Kozuma (67), and Chella Choi (68).  With Jessica KordaMisuzu Narita, and Teresa Lu firing 67s of their own to move to -6, -5, and -4, respectively, and with big names Karrie Webb (68), Sakura Yokomine (69), and Bo-Mee Lee (69) lurking, Sunday dawned with 21 players within 5 shots of the lead.  The only disappointment was that the 2 biggest names in the field, LPGA money-list leader Stacy Lewis and JLPGA money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn, were not in that group.

Even without them in the hunt, what a Sunday it turned out to be!  Hall of Famer and 2006 champion Webb kicked off the festivities with a bogey-free 31 on the front from the 3rd-to-last group to move to -11 at the turn.  Playing in the next-to-last group, Choi and Mi Hyang Lee birdied 4 of her 1st 7 holes and 3 of her 1st 7, respectively, to join her.  Meanwhile Korda, sandwiched between those 2 groups, got it to -10 with a birdie-free 32 on the front.  But all of them were chasing Choi’s and Lee’s playing partner Kozuma, who birdied 4 holes in a row after parring the 1st and got it to -13 with a birdie on the par-5 7th.  As the 2nd-round co-leaders stumbled out of the gates–Suzuki bogeyed her 1st 2 holes and scrambled her way to a 37 that left her at -8, Davies offset her 2 birdies with 2 bogeys to stay at -9, and Ilhee Lee made 11-straight pars dating back to the end of moving day before making her lone birdie on the front that got her to -10–Kozuma suddenly gave everyone hope with bogeys on 9 and 11 that dropped her back to -11.

Even as the 22-year-old looking for her 1st JLPGA victory looked like she was starting to fumble it, other players entered the fray.  LPGA newbie Ayako Uehara, a 3-time winner on the JLPGA who was a fixture in the top 26 of their money list from 2006 to 2012, ended her 8-hole par train that closed out yesterday’s round with a birdie on her 1st hole today and followed it up with 4 more in her next 12 holes of bogey-free golf to climb to -11 and into a tie for the lead with her playing partner Korda (who birdied the 12th to get there), Choi (who would follow up her birdie barrage on the 1st 7 holes with a par train over her next 7), Kozuma, and Ilhee Lee (who birdied the 7th and 11th to get there and had gone without a bogey for 33 holes and counting at that point).  But what of Webb, Davies, and the eventual winner?  Well, Webb went bogey-birdie-bogey to fall back to -10 with only 4 holes left to play, Mi Hyang Lee had bogeyed the 10th to join her there but fought back into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the 14th, and Davies birdied the par-5 13th to get to -10.

A bunch of late charges complicated matters yet further.  1st-round leader Morgan Pressel, who had stalled Saturday after an opening 67 due to an unexpectedly balky putter, followed up her bogey-free 33 on the front today with 3 birdies in her last 6 holes, including 2 in her last 3, to post her 2nd 67 of the week and become the leader in the clubhouse at -10.  She was joined a few minutes later by playing partners Sakura Yokomine and Saiki Fujita.  Yokomine had birdied 2 of her 1st 3 holes but stalled midway through her round, yet finished strong with 4 birdies in her last 8 holes, including 3 of her last 6.  Fujita, meanwhile, followed up her 4 birdies in her 1st 6 holes with a lone eagle on the 13th in a sea of pars.  Their final playing partner, Harukyo Nomura, had a great chance to become the 4th co-leader in the clubhouse, but despite making 5 birdies between the 7th and 15th holes, could not make another on the 540-yard par-5 16th, 180-yard par-3 17th, or 405-yard par-4 18th.

So the big question as the leaders entered the home stretch was who would join Pressel, Yokomine, and Fujita at -10–and who would surpass them?

The 1st to try was Webb.  She made a heroic birdie on 17 to get to -11, but had to settle for becoming the 4th co-leader in the clubhouse when she suffered a walkoff bogey.

Next up were Korda, Uehara, and Na-Ri Lee.  Korda had fallen back to -10 with a bogey on the par-4 14th and couldn’t make a birdie coming home.  Lee did birdie 2 of her last 4 holes, but it was too little, too late.  So all Uehara needed to do to pass the 6 co-leaders was to stay at -11.  She did it with pars on 14, 15, 16, and 17, but she couldn’t do it on 18.  Now there were 7 players at -10 and only 6 left on the course.  Would anyone break the logjam?

The next threesome featured up-and-coming golfers looking for their 1st win ever (Choi and Kozuma) or 1st win on the LPGA (Mi Hyang Lee).  Kozuma had righted the ship after her mid-round stumbles and had made 6-straight pars as she headed into the 18th at -11.  Lee had followed up her birdie on 14 with 3-straight pars to keep pace with the JLPGA’s last hope for a homegrown winner.  But Choi had bogeyed the par-4 15th and needed a birdie on 18 or walkoff bogeys by her playing partners to have a hope of winning.  In the end, all 3 parred out, making it 8 golfers at -10–and 2 at -11.

Would anyone in the final group be able to beat Lee and Kozuma?  Davies couldn’t do it, as she finished with 5-straight pars to become the 9th player to end the week at -10.  After her rough start, Suzuki had fought back to -9 with 2 holes to play, but parred out.  Ilhee Lee got it to -12 with a birdie on the long par-5 16th, but she ended her 38-hole bogey-free run with a bogey on 17.  Could she birdie 18 for the win?  Would she join Webb and Uehara in the walkoff bogey club?  Nope, she parred it to join the playoff with Kozuma and Mi Hyang Lee.

And what a playoff it was!  They played the tough 18th over and over…and over.  All pars the 1st go-round…and the 2nd.  All birdies the 3rd.  All pars the 4th.  Finally Mi Hyang Lee prevailed with her 2nd birdie of the playoff on the 5th go-round!

If you had told me at the start of the week that Stacy Lewis, Na Yeon Choi, and Sun-Ju Ahn would finish outside the top 30 and Bo-Mee Lee, Ji-Yai Shin, Misuza Narita, Teresa Lu, and Mirim Lee would struggle to make the top 20, I would have told you that anyone could walk away with the victory (and that I’d be in contention for the wooden spoon, the cellar-dweller’s prize in SeoulSisters.com’s PakPicker, this week!).  In the midst of Morgan Pressel, Chella Choi, and Na-Ri Lee putting on a ball-striking exhibition, Ai Suzuki and Ayako Uehara putting on a putting exhibition, and Laura Davies and Karrie Webb showing the kids a thing or two, Mi Hyang Lee, Ilhee Lee, and Kotono Kozuma showed us all that you don’t need to have a big name or a huge resume to create a lot of drama.  Mi Hyang Lee’s 2nd win of 2014 will move her up my ranking of the top 22 under 22 on major women’s professional tours.  Congratulations to Lee and condolences to everyone she surpassed!

[Update 1 (5:39 am):  Sunday was a day of playoffs, as Min Sun Kim broke through for her 1st career KLPGA victory and Lee-Anne Pace made it 3 Ws in her last 3 starts!]

22 Under 22: October 2014 Update

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?

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!

Stage II LPGA Q-School Day 4: Ginger Howard Medals; Mamiko Higa Fails to Advance to Stage III

It’s official!  Ginger Howard is your medallist at LPGA Q-School Stage II!  The Symetra Tour regular shot a 71 today to finish the week at -9 and outplay Alison Lee (72, -8), Annie Park (70, -6), Su-Hyun Oh (74, -6), Minjee Lee (70, -5), Samantha Richdale (69, -5), and Karlin Beck (67, -5).  The top 80 and ties move on to Stage III, but 2013 JLPGA Rookie of the Year will not be among them.

Here’s how all my Stage II notables fared:

Top Prospects

  • Minjee Lee 72-67-74-70 (T5)
  • Ariya Jutanugarn 73-75-73-70 (T51)
  • Mamiko Higa 74-77-76-70 (T92)
  • Stephanie Meadow 71-73-69-74 (T16)
  • Nontaya Srisawang 72-73-73-70 (T22)
  • Alison Lee 71-71-66-72 (2nd)
  • Annie Park 70-71-71-70 (T3)
  • Su-Hyun Oh 72-70-66-74 (T3)
Great Bets
  • Emily Tubert 76-72-73-76 (T92)
  • Cheyenne Woods 74-72-70-70 (T12)
  • Grace Na 71-79-79-70 (T118)
  • Laetitia Beck 77-75-71-72 (T78)
  • Sophia Popov 71-73-70-76 (T41)
  • SooBin Kim 75-74-76-69 (T72)
  • Simin Feng 73-72-71-73 (T32)
Good Shots
  • Valentine Derrey 73-73-70-72 (T22)
  • Camilla Lennarth 71-74-70-72 (T16)
  • Kylie Walker 75-70-80-74 (T118)
  • Stephanie Na 81-73-76-71 (T138)
  • Holly Clyburn DQ
  • Haruka Morita (Wanyao Lu) 71-73-73-72 (T32)
  • Chirapat Jao-Javanil 72-71-76-73 (T59)
  • Ginger Howard 72-67-69-71 (1st)
  • Yu Liu 77-70-71-72 (T41)
  • Therese Koelbaek 72-73-74-72 (T51)
If I had remembered that Hee Young Park’s younger sister was Ju Young Park, I would certainly have been tracking her progress this week.  As it turned out, she went 71-70-72-71 to finish T8!  Sophie Giquel also sneaked into the top 80 with a solid 73 today that left her at T78, right on the right side of the cut line at +7 for the week.  On the down side, I was sad to see that Mitsuki Katahira and Katie Kempter finished outside the top 80 and that Hannah Yun didn’t even sign up for Q-School this year.  We’ll have to wait and see what their plans for 2015 are.
To close on a happy note, let me offer my congratulations to everyone who moved on to Stage III and encouragement to those who didn’t.

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

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

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

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

Stage II LPGA Q-School Day 3: Su-Hyun Oh and Alison Lee Catch Ginger Howard at -8

Japan Women’s Open Thursday: Unheralded Hiroko Azuma Leads; 2-Time Champion Mika Miyazato Lurks

After eagling her 10th hole of the day, the 501-yard par-5 1st, 22-year-old Hiroko Azuma was -6 and bogey-free late in the 1st round of the Japan Women’s Open.  This was uncharted territory for a young professional who had made only 7 cuts coming into this week, and she stumbled down the home stretch with 3 bogeys and 2 birdies to settle for an opening 67.  But it was still the best round of the day on a day that notables like Momoko Ueda (78), Harukyo Nomura (77), Young Kim (77), Yuri Fudoh (75), and Onnarin Sattayabanphot (75) would like to forget as quickly as possible.

Even 2-time champion Mika Miyazato had trouble finishing off her round.  After making 4 birdies in her 1st 13 holes of bogey-free golf, she bogeyed the 387-yard par-4 14th and couldn’t make a birdie coming home.  On a day when 26-year-old Erika Kikuchi (68) matched Azuma’s 32 on the back and veteran Shiho Oyama (69), 20-year-old Ai Suzuki (68), and 22-year-old Mami Fukuda (71) posted 33s on the back, Miyazato’s 36 was the worst score on that side among those in the top 12.

That includes Sun-Ju Ahn (69), who’s #2 on the JLPGA money list, and Teresa Lu (69), who’s #7, while money-list leader Bo-Mee Lee is right in this thing at -1 with #3 Ji-Yai Shin, Sakura Yokomine, and the visiting Chie Arimura.  Other notables include Lala Anai (68), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70), Yumiko Yoshida (70), Ritsuko Ryu (70), Misuza Narita (72), Natsuka Hori (72), 16-year-old amateur and youngest-ever JLPGA winner Minami Katsu (72), Ji-Hee Lee (73), Ayako Uehara (73), Rikako Morita (74), Erina Hara (74), Esther Lee (74), Na-Ri Lee (74), and Ayaka Watanabe (74).

I still like Miyazato’s chances for her 3rd JWO victory, particularly because her 33 was the lowest score on the tougher front today.  Let’s see what happens!

Stage II LPGA Q-School Day 2: Brogan McKinnon Maintains Lead; Minjee Lee and Ginger Howard Charge

Brogan McKinnon followed up yesterday’s 66 with a 71 today at LPGA Q-School’s Stage II, but her lead shrank to 2 over Minjee Lee (67), Ginger Howard (67), and Celine Herbin (70).

Top Prospects

  • Minjee Lee 72-67 (T2)
  • Ariya Jutanugarn 73-75 (T80)
  • Mamiko Higa 74-77 (T120)
  • Stephanie Meadow 71-73 (T23)
  • Nontaya Srisawang 72-73 (T34)
  • Alison Lee 71-71 (T9)
  • Annie Park 70-71 (T6)
  • Su-Hyun Oh 72-70 (T9)
Great Bets
  • Emily Tubert 76-72 (T80)
  • Cheyenne Woods 74-72 (T52)
  • Grace Na 71-79 (T108)
  • Laetitia Beck 77-75 (T130)
  • Sophia Popov 71-73 (T23)
  • SooBin Kim 75-74 (T98)
  • Simin Feng 73-72 (T34)
Good Shots
  • Valentine Derrey 73-73 (T52)
  • Camilla Lennarth 71-74 (T34)
  • Kylie Walker 75-70 (T34)
  • Stephanie Na 81-73 (T147)
  • Holly Clyburn DQ
  • Haruka Morita (Wanyao Lu) 71-73 (T23)
  • Chirapat Jao-Javanil 72-71 (T15)
  • Ginger Howard 72-67 (T2)
  • Yu Liu 77-70 (T69)
  • Therese Koelbaek 72-73 (T34)
The competition isn’t that fearsome, but more than 2 rounds over 75 and a top 80 will be hard to attain.  Those outside the top 100 have to make a move tomorrow!

Stage II LPGA Q-School Day 1: Brogan McKinnon Fires 66 to Take 3-Shot Lead

Stage II of LPGA Q-School Begins Today: Cheyenne and Ariya and Minjee, Oh My!

Here are your pairings for the 1st round of Stage II of LPGA Q-School.  You can find the links to the final field and live scoring here.  LPGA.com and Tony Jesselli have excellent previews out, so I’ll simply add that there are even more players to keep an eye on than they focus on, including (most notably) 2013 JLPGA Rookie of the Year and International Crown Team Japan member Mamiko Higa, LETer Nontaya Srisawang, LPGA ’06er and long-time LETer Louise Stahle, long-time ALPGer Stephanie Na, UCLA’s Ani Gulugian, USC’s Stephanie Kono and Sophia Popov, amateur Haruka Morita (Wanyao Lu), New Yorker and Princetonian Kelly Shon, and the Symetra Tour’s Mitsuki Katahira.  I’ll also be rooting for all-world names like Scooby Liu, Jamila Jaxaliyeva, Jenni Jenq, Pinrath Loomboonruang, Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong, Britney Yada, Prima Thammaraks, and Katelyn Sepmoree to make it to Stage III.  But then, shouldn’t everyone?

My only question is whether “Su Oh” from Australia is Su-Hyun Oh?  If so, she should be one of the most featured players in the field, so I have to assume she’s not….  Unless she is and wants to fly in under the radar, in which case she’s succeeding!

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!

Congratulations to Kyu Jung Baek and Connie Chen!

Hyo Joo Kim had a shot of backing up her Evian Championship with another major victory at the MetLife KLPGA Championship last Sunday, but instead another rising young star on tour took the title for her 3rd victory of the season.  Kyu Jung Baek got it to -10 early and the leaders came back to her 1 by 1, until only Ran Hong managed to match her total.  Baek beat the veteran in a 1-hole playoff, closing the gap on Rookie of the Year race leader Jin Young Ko in a major way.

Meanwhile on the LET, just as countrywoman Paula Reto was contending on the LPGA, South Africa’s own Connie Chen was holding off the likes of Carlota Ciganda, Beth Allen, Charley Hull, Nontaya Srisawang, and Nikki Campbell and leaving big names like Azahara Munoz, Lee-Anne Pace, and Melissa Reid in the dust at the Tenerife Open de Espana.  Chen has had a few decent finishes in the last few years, but followed up a T7 a few weeks ago with 2-straight missed cuts before finding something in Spain.

Chen turns 22 late next month and Baek turns 19 just before her, so be on the lookout for more good things from them both for years to come.  If I had to handicap their chances of making it to the LPGA, I’d say Chen is a long shot and Baek is a sure shot, but with players this young you never can tell just where their limits actually are!

Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic Saturday: 22-Year-Old Mami Fukuda Vaults into Lead with 29 on Back

22-year-old Mami Fukuda took a ride on the birdie train for 6 holes and capped it off with another on the 18th hole to post a 29 on the back 9 and a 64 for the day.  That run was just enough to move her into 1st place at the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic at -10 through 36 holes.  Fukuda charged past Ji-Yai Shin, whose 7-birdie 67 seemed merely mortal, and Na-Ri Kim, whose bogey-free 68 was, you know, just fine by comparison.  And she held off Onnarin Sattayabanphot, whose bogey-free 63 was sparked by an eagle on the 493-yard par-5 5th and also included a 31 on the back.

Fukuda leads Shin, Kim, and Sattayabanphot by 1, Misuzu Narita and 1st-round leader Rui Kitada by 2, and Na-Ri Lee by 3 heading into tomorrow’s final round.  Also in this are Momoko Ueda (4 back after going 69-69), Ai Suzuki (5 back after a 71-68 start), and perhaps even Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-70), Sakura Yokomine (70-71), Mamiko Higa (71-71), and Miki Saiki (70-73).  Missing the cut, however, was last year’s money-list leader Rikako Morita, so not all the big names in the field will be in the mix.

We’re not quite getting the free-for-all we anticipated between the top 4 players on the JLPGA, but #4 Shin leads #3 Narita by a shot with 18 holes left to play, so there’s plenty of time for a showdown to emerge.  Fukuda, meanwhile, has a great chance for her 1st win on tour and 1st top 10 since the KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies back in April (which 15-year-old Minami Katsu won).  She had 4 top 10s in her 1st 7 starts this season, including a career-best finish of T3 at the T-Point Ladies, but has had only 1 top 20 and 3 top 25s in her last 18 starts, with 5 missed cuts in that run.  Maybe we’ll see David take on a pair of JLPGA goliaths tomorrow!

Evian Championship Sunday: Hyo Joo Kim Beats Karrie Webb on 72nd Hole on Network TV…and I Miss It!

Hyo Joo Kim looked to be in control of the Evian Championship for much of the final round, despite charges by Na Yeon Choi and Ha Na Jang, and an eagle-par-birdie run by Mi Jung Hur, but right about the time Golf Channel coverage switched over to NBC, things changed dramatically.  Even as Karrie Webb‘s birdie barrage in the middle of her round–5 birdies between the 9th and 15th holes that got the LPGA legend to -11–put the pressure on the 19-year-old KLPGA superstar, Kim bogeyed both par 3s on the back to drop from -12 to -10.  And even as Choi, Jang, and Hur faltered down the stretch, the tournament came down to the 72nd hole.

Not that I got to see any of it.  I was behind on my DVRed Golf Channel coverage and only found out about the switch to network tv a half-hour after its coverage had ended.  So I didn’t get to see how Kim stuck her approach on the final hole and sank her 12-foot birdie attempt while Webb’s approach failed to fade and she failed to get up and down from the fringe to force a playoff.  I didn’t get to see the look on Webb’s face down the home stretch as she was trying to become the 1st golfer to ever win 6 different major championships.  I didn’t get to see Kim’s body language as she was trying to become the 3rd youngest winner of an LPGA major.  At least I’ll have highlights–some time.

But on a day the Buffalo Bills went 2-0 and my entire neighborhood was cheerful, I spent most of the afternoon annoyed at myself that I never double-checked LPGA.com or my tv listings.  That’s what I get for purposely staying off the web (after posting on 20-year-old Ai Suzuki‘s record-breaking major victory on the JLPGA, that is!) so that I could savor the final-round drama!

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).]

Evian Championship Saturday: A Tale of 2 Moving Days