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In a week when JLPGA honchos were setting up a Japanese young guns vs. established stars narrative, and when a former teenage star who was bigger than Tiger Woods in Japan had a share of the lead after 18 holes the day before the 10th anniversary of her breakthrough victory, when most of the top Korean players were taking the week off to prepare for the Japan Women’s Open, I don’t think anybody expected 2 non-Japanese players who have zero JLPGA wins to share the lead at the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open at the end of moving day.
But Teresa Lu and Na-Ri Lee both have a great chance to break through at the same tournament Ai Miyazato did 10 years ago today. They sit at -3, Lu thanks to steady golf that kept her there and Lee on the strength of a 3-birdie 70 that brought her there.
And guess who’s closest to them after shooting a bogey-free 66, the low round of the week? Not Ai Miyazato, who tied Ji-Woo Lee for most bogeys (4) today among those in the top 10, and is 3 shots back after following up her opening 69 with a 75. Not Rikako Morita, the money-list leader who shot her 2nd-straight 73 to drop back 5 shots off the pace alongside Shiho Oyama, Rui Kitada, Erina Hara, and Erika Kikuchi. Not last week’s winner Sakura Yokomine, who followed up her opening 71 with a disastrous 77 to free-fall all the way to +4 with Ayako Uehara and Yuri Fudoh. Not Chie Arimura, who at +6 finds herself tied with Natsuka Hori, 1 shot behind Mamiko Higa, Maiko Wakabayashi, and Miho Mori. Not Yumiko Yoshida or Shinobu Moromizato, who didn’t even come close to making the cut. Not even Miki Saiki, who dropped to +1 through 36 holes with a 2-bogey 73.
Nope, it’s fellow non-Japanese young gun Esther Lee, who, like Teresa and Na-Ri, is still in search of her 1st win on the JLPGA. The only other golfers under par for the week thus far are veteran Saiki Fujita (69) and young gun Lala Anai (70), who battled their way back to -1, Anai by making 4 birdies in her last 5 holes. Joining Ai-sama at E is Yukari Baba, who fired her 2nd-straight even-par 72.
So with 3 golfers without a JLPGA victory at the top of the pyramid and 20 players within 5 shots of the lead, we have a dramatic set-up for tomorrow’s final round. You know whom I’ll be rooting for! Ai-sama, gambatte-ne!!!!