HAKONE, Kanagawa Pref. – A healthier, happier Akiko Fukushima put together a vintage 7-under-par 66 to establish a one-shot lead after the first round of the CAT Ladies on Friday.
The 37-year-old showed exactly why she has stacked up 23 JLPGA career titles with a round that featured seven birdies and not a bogey in sight at the par-73 Daihakone Country Club in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Little-known Chiharu Tsunekawa and South Korean Kang Yeo Jin shared second place while Saiki Fujita was fourth with a 68 ahead of a quartet featuring 2008 JLPGA money title winner Miho Koga.
Fukushima, looking to build on her joint runnerup finish at last week’s NEC Karuizawa 72, made a dream start with birdie putts on her first two holes and picked up two more shots on Nos. 7 and 8.
After moving to 5 under at the 13th hole, she held her nerve to birdie the 17th — the same hole she bogeyed in all three rounds of last year’s event — before closing the round with an 11-foot birdie putt.
“I have regained my confidence form a physical aspect and I am in higher spirits,” said Fukushima, who had been unsure of herself physically since undergoing surgery to remove gallstones before the start of the 2009 season.
NEC Karuizawa 72 winner Lee Ji Hee of South Korea began her quest for back-to-back titles at the ¥60-million event with a 71.
Pair share lead
KYOTANABE , Kyoto Pref. (Kyodo) Takuya Taniguchi and Shigeru Nonaka both carded 65s to move into a share of the lead at the midway point of the Kansai Open on Friday.
Taniguchi, winless since capturing the 2008 Sun Chlorella Classic, carved up the back nine with an eagle and four birdies through his first six holes.
He added birdies either side of a triple bogey on the par-3 sixth on his outward nine at Tanabe Country Club.
Nonaka, still seeking his first win on the JGTO Tour, enjoyed a bogey-free journey over the par-70 layout from sixth to the top of the leaderboard with Taniguchi at a 7-under 133.
Overnight leader Kazuhiro Yamashita dropped to third place and was two shots back after shooting even par, while Toshinori Muto was another shot adrift after a 69.
A total of 68 players made the cut set at 4 over and advanced to the weekend’s final rounds, but Hiroyuki Fujita was not among them, the defending champion missing out by one stroke after a 74.