RYU LEADS AFTER 18 HOLES AT TOTO JAPAN CLASSIC
With a blazing back-nine 31, So Yeon Ryu surged to the top of the leaderboard with a 7-under 65 and holds the lead after the first round of the 2018 TOTO Japan Classic. Ryu strung together birdies at holes 11-13 and added back-to-back birdies over the closing two holes to round out her bogey-free round.
“I think for a three-round tournament, you're better to make sure you have a really, really good starting day,” said Ryu, whose best finish in her three TOTO Japan Classic appearances is a tie for third in 2016. “I opened with a really good round, so I'm really happy that hopefully I can have this decent round two more days to go.”
Ryu sits one stroke clear of two major champions in Jiyai Shin and In-Kyung Kim, as well as rising Japanese phenom Nasa Hataoka, who had legions of hometown fans following her every step. Minjee Lee and Sei Young Kim are tied for fifth at 5-under 67.
KIM HAPPY TO FINALLY BE PAIN-FREE
The TOTO Japan Classic marks In-Kyung Kim’s fourth competition since August’s Ricoh Women’s British Open, as the 30-year-old from the Republic of Korea was sidelined for nearly two months with a nagging back injury. Kim missed the cut in her return to competition at the Japan Women’s Open in early October. She rebounded the next week, going 3-1 for the victorious Team Korea at the UL International Crown, but stumbled to a 60th-place finish at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.
“I'm very thankful that I was able to play International Crown, and I didn't want it to be a burden for my teammates,” said Kim. “I had so many support and understanding from my team, so I'm just happy to be back and play some good golf.”
If the first round at Seta Golf Club is any indication, Kim’s rest is finally paying off. Kim held the solo lead for much of the round, only falling to second when So Yeon Ryu birdied the 18th to pull ahead. Kim seemingly cruised around the course on Friday, getting to 7-under through 13 holes before carding her lone bogey at No. 16. As many players noted, Kim pointed to the severely sloped greens as the main challenge facing this week’s competitors.
“I try to be below the hole because the greens are very severe, and I think they had a good pin position today,” said Kim. “There were some birdies out there, but I think the greens are so severe that just giving myself a chance was all I can do.”
PUTTER COMING BACK TO RYU
What was So Yeon Ryu’s biggest takeaway from today’s bogey-free 65? The putter is back.
“I was struggling with my putting the last two weeks in Taiwan and Shanghai,” said Ryu, who only needed 27 putts on Friday. “I'm so glad my putting worked well. “
The last two weeks were a struggle for the No. 3 player in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Her third rounds were particularly tough, as she returned a 77 at last week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship presented by CTBC and a 76 the week prior at the Buick LPGA Shanghai. A welcome return to form has Ryu in a place of comfort, right at the top of the leaderboard heading into the weekend.
“I think I just learned a lot through the last two weeks, and then as soon as I just came to Japan, I knew what kind of practice I needed to have to play really well,” said Ryu. “Then I guess those practices were really worth it, and then it worked really well today.”
SHIN ENJOYING REUNION WEEK WITH LPGA FRIENDS
Every year, former World No. 1 and two-time TOTO Japan Classic winner Jiyai Shin looks forward to the TOTO Japan Classic, not just for the competition, but for the opportunity to reunite with the many LPGA friends she made during her five years on Tour.
“I enjoy (playing) on the LPGA and the U.S., but here in Japan, we have a lot of three-day events, and I have a base in Tokyo,” said Shin, who cited the desire to spend more time with her family when she moved to the JLPGA Tour in 2014. “So life balance, much better and less traveling. So I'm more focused when I'm back to the golf course. I'm more focused on the golf course. But I'm missing a lot of friends and fans out there.”
Shin looked right back at home with today’s LPGA stars, carding seven birdies to a lone bogey in her round of 6-under 66. Shin has three JLPGA victories in 2018, including major wins at the World Ladies Championship Salonpas Cup and the Japan LPGA Championship Konica Minolta Cup.
HATAOKA LEADS JAPANESE CHARGE
This has been a breakout year for 19-year-old Japanese phenom Nasa Hataoka. After being forced back to Q School in 2017, Hataoka earned her first career win at the 2018 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by Owens-Corning and O-I. The very next week, her final-round 64 propelled her into a playoff at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she ultimately fell to Sung Hyun Park.
Hataoka now presents perhaps Japan’s greatest budding golf talent. After her first-round 66, she may take her modest goals up a notch, no doubt buoyed by throngs of adoring fans.
“I tried to be aggressive and very happy that I was able to finish with 6 under,” said Hataoka. “My aim was 4 under each day, so for three days, 12 under total. I am happy that I was able to clear that aim for today. But now with many good scores, maybe I have to set a new target score like 15 or 20.”
Rolex Rankings No. 3 So Yeon Ryu (65, -7)
Ryu is playing in her fourth TOTO Japan Classic, with a best finish of T3 in 2016
Her first-round 65 is her best career round at the TOTO Japan Classic
Her first-round 65 is tied for the second-lowest round of her 2018 season
She hit 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, with 27 putts
This is Ryu’s 22nd event of the 2018 season; she won the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give and has five other top-10 finishes
Rolex Rankings No. 13 In-Kyung Kim (66, -6)
Kim is playing in her seventh TOTO Japan Classic, with a best finish of T9 in 2009 and 2011
Her first-round 66 is her second-lowest round at the TOTO Japan Classic; she shot a second-round 65 in 2009 for her only lower round
Her first-round 66 is tied for the lowest round of her 2018 season, joining the first rounds of the Marathon Classic presented by Owens-Corning and O-& and the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open
She hit 14 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, with 28 putts
This is Kim’s 16th event of the 2018 season; she has a best finish of second at the LPGA Volvik Championship, where she fell to Minjee Lee in a playoff, and has three other top-10 finishes
Rolex Rankings No. 28 Jiyai Shin (66, -6)
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
Her first-round 66 is tied for her third-lowest round at the TOTO Japan Classic
She hit 12 of 14 fairways and 18 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, -6)
Hataoka is playing in her second TOTO Japan Classic; she finished T33 in her debut in 2017
Hataoka is the leading Japanese player through 18 holes
This is the second consecutive year she opened the TOTO Japan Classic with a first-round 66
She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens, with 29 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