After 36 holes at the TOTO Japan Classic, Momoko Ueda retained the solo lead after firing a 3-under 69 to finish at -10 overall. She holds a slim one-stroke advantage over her countrywomen and JLPGA competitors Miyu Yamashita and co-sanctioned defending champion Ai Suzuki. This is her fourth 36-hole lead on the LPGA Tour, with her first three recorded at the 2006, 2007 and 2011 TOTO Japan Classic, the last two leading to her only Tour victories of her career.
Ueda, whose 134 is her lowest 36-hole score on the LPGA Tour since her win at the 2011 TOTO Japan Classic (131), started with five-straight pars in the final grouping of the day. She notched her first birdie at Seta Golf Course on No. 6, but went bogey-birdie-bogey on Nos. 9-11. Knowing she had to regroup quick, Ueda carded three more birdies in her final six holes, which included making a long-range putt on No. 17 to take the solo lead heading into the weekend.
“I was not in a good mood in the first five holes. During that time, Ai and Sakura made good putts and played well. So, I tried to catch up with them and not to think conservatively,” said Ueda. “My tee shots and putts were not so good compared with yesterday and I was thinking during the round that it is going to be a tough day. In such a situation, I played well enough today.”
Yamashita, who already has three wins this season on the JLPGA and is first on the JLPGA’s Money List and Mercedes Ranking this season, went bogey-free for the second-consecutive day, netting birdies at Nos. 7, 10, 13 and 16 to shoot a 68 on Friday. She and Suzuki, tied for second at -9 overall, are two of only three players in the field without a bogey on the card through the first two days. The 2019 champion Suzuki had a quieter Friday, ending her second round with a 2-under 70 after birdies on No. 3 and No. 13.
“Actually, I feel my shots were much better yesterday than today,” said Suzuki. “Hope today is the worst day of this week. I need 60's for the next 2 days.”
Sitting in solo fourth is Sakura Koiwai at -8 overall. The eight-time JLPGA winner, who entered the week ranked second on the JLPGA this year in birdies, added six on day two, highlighted by four made in her last nine holes. Sitting in a tie for fifth at -7 is Saiki Fujita, the five-time JLPGA winner who has not recorded a victory since the 2011 FUJITSU LADIES, along with LPGA Tour winner Ayaka Furue and major champion Jeongeun Lee6.
“I am not comfortable with my swing currently. I am making an adjustment with my swing during the round. So, I am happy with my today's score in such a situation,” said Furue, who won the event in 2021 as a JLPGA tournament.
Six players sit in a tie for eighth at -6, including Rolex Rankings No. 1 Atthaya Thitikul. The 19-year-old, who started on No. 10, rebounded after a first-round 71 with a 5-under 67 thanks in part to five birdies between Nos. 1-7 on her back nine. Thitikul said she still needs to improve on her tee shots as she gets used to the narrow fairways in Japan.
“I still think like this course is pretty challenging for us. Pretty narrow fairways and pretty slopey greens. I think it depends on the day, because I think today it’s been my day. I mean, I hit it close, made the putts,” said Thitikul, who has hit 20 of 28 fairways and 30 of 36 greens in the first two rounds. “We’ll see how the next two rounds are going to be.”
Canada’s Maude-Aimee Leblanc withdrew during the second round due to illness.