Last year’s runner-up at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards, Ayaka Furue, is once again tearing Shadow Creek up in the third edition of the event, winning her second round-robin pool play match 4 and 2 over United States Solheim Cup captain Stacy Lewis. Furue took a 1-up lead right out of the gate with a win on the par-4 1st hole and quickly extended it to 2 up with a birdie on hole 4. Lewis answered, getting back to 1 down with a par on No. 5 and then tying the match with a birdie on No. 7. Furue got back to 1 up with a birdie on the par-3 8th hole, but Lewis immediately retaliated on the next, birdieing the par-5 9th to tie the match with nine holes to play. Both made bogey on No. 10 and Furue then put the pedal down, going par-par-birdie on holes 11, 12 and 13 to grab a 3-up lead with six to play. Lewis just couldn’t find any magic and it was a Furue birdie on the par-5 16th hole that spelled the end, giving the Japan native a 4-and-2 victory.
“I had some trouble around the course, but I just focused on the play, and I played well today,” Furue said of her Thursday play. “I didn't think anything. I just went through the next hole and just think about the next hole and play well and got to get birdies the next hole. I keep going through that mind.”
It was her performance at Shadow Creek last year that really jumpstarted Furue’s rookie season. She had played nine events before coming to Las Vegas, Nev. and her best finish was a T17 that came at the Cognizant Founders Cup. After losing to Eun-Hee Ji in the championship match to earn what was then her best career LPGA Tour finish, Furue went on to win the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open two months later and recorded two more top-five finishes the rest of the year, a T3 at the Portland Classic and a T5 at the TOTO Japan Classic.
Currently sitting at 2-0-0, Furue will need a halve or a win on Friday to once again advance to the round of 16, and with that accomplishment just within her grasp, she will make a few tweaks to her game to get ready for her showdown with Gemma Dryburgh. “I think my shots were pretty good today, but some of my putting were not stable. To get some birdies I'm going to have like stable putting for the final round tomorrow,” she said. “I'm so happy to be back here again, and I want to definitely go to the final round this year, too.”