Iijima (66) grabs share of Mizuno Classic lead

Akane Iijima during the 2010 Ricoh Women's British Open.

Akane Iijima during the 2010 Ricoh Women's British Open.

SHIMA, Japan — Japan’s Akane Iijima made five birdies on the back nine in a 6-under 66 Friday that gave her a share of the Mizuno Classic first-round lead with South Korea’s Ah Reum-hwang and Taiwan’s Teresa Lu.

Japan’s Momoko Ueda was one stroke back in fourth, followed by a group of seven, including Catriona Matthew of Britain and Stacy Lewis of the United States, in joint fifth at 4-under.

Iijima’s first birdie came on the par-4 No. 4, where she sank an 18-foot putt. She made three straight birdies beginning at the par-3 11th and then added two more on Nos. 15 and 17 at Kintetsu Kashikojima Country Club.

“My shots improved on the back nine,” said Iijima, who is seeking her first win since last year and seventh title overall. “In the past, I’ve been able to put my shots within 6 feet of the pin couldn’t make the putts. But putts from that distance went down for me today and that is why I had a good score.”

Iijima had to post a top-10 finish on in a Japan LPGA event to qualify for the Mizuno Classic, and finished eighth three tournaments ago to make the field. She made the most of her opportunity and was hoping to do more.

“If I win, maybe I would have a chance to play in the U.S. LPGA,” she said. “If I have a chance to go to the U.S. next spring, that would be good.”

Lewis, who finished third at last year’s Mizuno Classic, had six birdies in her 68.

Second-year LPGA Tour member Mina Harigae of California was one of the seven players at 4-under.

The LPGA Futures Tour’s 2009 Player of the Year charged up the leaderboard with solid iron play, hitting 17 greens in regulation to make her move.

“It would mean so much for me to play well here,” said the 22-year-old Harigae, whose parents are from Japan.

Defending champion Jiyai Shin of South Korea shot a 69.

“It was good because I didn’t made any mistakes, but I think I need more birdies in the next two days,” she said.

The Mizuno Classic is co-sanctioned by the U.S. and Japan LPGA Tours. Sunday’s winner will take home $180,000.

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