LEE HEADS TO SUNDAY WITH THREE-STROKE LEAD AT TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC
Minjee Lee made it look easy on Saturday, notching a bogey-free 8-under 64 in Saturday’s second round of the TOTO Japan Classic and holding the lead at 13-under 131. The 22-year-old from Perth, Australia, opened with a birdie at the par-5 first hole and took advantage of the day’s prime scoring conditions, carding seven more birdies on her round, including three consecutive on holes 13-15.
Lee carries a three-stroke lead over second-year JLPGA player Sakura Koiwai, who birdied her final two holes to pull into solo second at 10-under 134. Jiyai Shin and Nasa Hataoka are tied for third at 9-under 135.
Lee’s 8-under 64 was one stroke shy of tying the tournament scoring record of 9-under 63, set by Annika Sorenstam at Seta in the first two rounds of her 2003 victory and since tied several times.
NEW DRIVER IN THE BAG FOR LONG-HITTING THOMPSON
Watching Lexi Thompson with a driver in her hand is like watching power personified. Long known for her length and power off the tee, Thompson actually switched up her driver game this week, putting a new Cobra F9 driver in the bag after testing the new product at a recent photo shoot.
“Since I swing pretty fast, it's all a matter of the lag in the shaft and making sure it's timed up correctly for my swing speed and everything,” said Thompson, who made the final decision just two days before making the long flight to Japan. “So that's why you just set up on TrackMan and get the right numbers. And of course, feel for me; if it's going on a good flight and it feels good through impact, that's important.”
After two rounds, Thompson sits tied for 13th at 6-under 138, tied with Jennifer Song as the leading Americans. And the new driver? “Happy so far,” she said with a smile.
CONSISTENCY KEY TO LEE’S 2018 SUCCESS
Minjee Lee has quietly put together one of the most consistent seasons of her LPGA career. With a victory and 12 other top-10 finishes in 2018, the young Australian, playing in her fourth LPGA season, sits second in numerous statistical categories, behind only the season’s dominant force in three-time winner and Rolex Rankings No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn.
Fresh off a runner-up finish at last week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, Lee points to a new-found consistency in her game as perhaps the key aspect to her successful season.
“I'm probably hitting more fairways and giving myself more opportunities to hit it closer to the pin,” said Lee, who is second on Tour to Jutanugarn in the Race to the CME Globe, total earnings, birdies, top-10 finishes and rounds in the 60s. “I think my putting has definitely improved this year. Overall it just comes down to everything being a little bit better.”
YOUNG KOIWAI SHOWING POISE IN TOTO DEBUT
Of the 35 JLPGA players teeing it up at Seta Golf Club, Sakura Koiwai was not necessarily the name that local fans expected to see among the leaders heading into Sunday’s final round. The 20-year old from Hokkaido, Japan, is in just her second season on the JLPGA Tour, yet she finds herself as the leading Japanese contender and playing in Sunday’s final group, alongside Minjee Lee and former World No. 1 Jiyai Shin.
“Everyone has a chance to win because you are looking at many birdies here. Anyone can come from behind,” said Koiwai, who admitted herself to being surprised in her success at Seta. “I just have to concentrate on my golf and I have to make as much birdies as possible.”
WITH A WIN…
Minjee Lee or Nasa Hataoka would become the fourth multiple winner of the 2018 LPGA Tour season, joining Ariya Jutanugarn (three wins), Sung Hyun Pak (three wins) and Brooke Henderson (two wins)
With the $225,000 winner’s check, Lee would move to $4,806,268 in career earnings and projects to jump from 68th to 66th on the LPGA Career Money List
Sakura Koiwai or Jiyai Shin would become the first non-Member winner of the 2018 LPGA season
Shin would earn her first LPGA win since the 2013 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open
Rolex Rankings No. 5 Minjee Lee (67-64, -13)
Lee is playing in her third TOTO Japan Classic; she finished T5 in 2017 and T10 in 2016
Her second-round 64 is tied the lowest round of her LPGA career; she previously shot 64 on five occasions, most recently in the first round of the 2018 Cambia Portland Classic
Her 36-hole score of 131 is the second-lowest 36-hole score of her LPGA career; she shot a 129 at the 2018 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G
She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, with 26 putts
This is Lee’s 26th event of the 2018 season; she won the LPGA Volvik Championship and has 12 other top-10 finishes, including finishing second at last week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship presented by CTBC
Rolex Rankings No. 68 Sakura Koiwai (68-66, -10)
Koiwai is playing in her first TOTO Japan Classic
Koiwai is making her debut on the LPGA Tour
Koiwai is the leading Japanese player through 18 holes
She hit 14 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens, with 26 putts
This is Koiwai’s second season on the JLPGA Tour; she has 34 appearances this season, with four runner-up finishes
Rolex Rankings No. 28 Jiyai Shin (66-69, -9)
Shin is playing in her 11th TOTO Japan Classic, with wins in 2008 and 2010
Shin has never finished worse than 18th at the TOTO Japan Classic
She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, with 30 putts
This is Shin’s second event of the 2018 LPGA Tour season, joining the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, where she finished T7
Shin plays full time on the JLPGA Tour; this is her 24th event of the 2018 JLPGA season, with three victories (two majors)
Rolex Rankings No. 16 Nasa Hataoka (66-69, -9)
Hataoka is playing in her second TOTO Japan Classic; she finished T33 in her debut in 2017
She hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, with 31 putts
This is Hataoka’s 23rd event of the 2018 season; she won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G and has eight other top-10 finishes, including a playoff loss at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Sakura Kowai (second, -10) leads the contingent of 24 Japanese players, followed by Nasa Hataoka (T3, -9)
Jennifer Song and Lexi Thompson (T13) are the leading American players
The top 10 comprises four countries – Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Spain
Two-time defending champion Shanshan Feng is tied for 22nd at -4, nine strokes behind Lee
First-round leader So Yeon Ryu shot a 1-over 73 on Saturday and faded into a tie for 13th at 6-under 138