Inspired by coming US Open stint, Saso shares lead in Japan

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    SASO: Set to display skills in the US Women’s Open.

    YUKA Saso celebrated her entry to next month’s prestigious US Women’s Open with a bang yesterday, firing off her first-round campaign with fourth straight birdies on the back for a bogey-free 65 and a share of the lead in the 39th Daiao Elleair Ladies Open at the Elleair Golf Club in Matsuyama, Japan.

    Playing on the same par-71, 6,545-yard course where she finished 26th in last year’s Japan Women’s Amateur Championship, Saso strung up birdies from holes No. 11 to No.14 to begin with guns blazing on the way to a four-under 32 after nine holes.

    She added two more on Nos. 4 and 9 to cap her sizzling round at two-under 33 to tighten her grip at the top of the Japanese LPGA tour Mercedes ranking while sharing the lead with Japanese Yuna Nishimura and Ayako Furue, who also fired 65s, in the 100 million yen (roughly P65.million) event.

    The morale of the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist was likely boosted by the announcement last Wednesday (Tuesday in the US) by the US Golfers Association that she was among the 28 players who qualified for the 39th edition of the tournament set Dec. 10-13 at the Champions Club in Houston, Texas, through the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    In her first year as a pro, Saso is currently enjoying a personal best of No. 55 in the rankings that takes into account the performances of women’s golfers in major competitions worldwide.

    Her participation in the event will be a reunion of sorts with former national teammate Bianca Pagdanganan, also a rookie on the US LPGA tour, who will see action in the blue-ribbon event following her ninth-place finish in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania last June.

    Pagdanganan, Saso and Louis Kaye Go combined to sweep the women’s individual and team gold medals for the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

    Pagdanganan and Saso are also the country’s top golfing hopefuls for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, currently running at Nos. 25 and No. 40, respectively, in the International Golf Federation Olympic qualifying rankings.

    Pagdanganan, who led the country to a golden double in the 30th Southeast Asian Games women’s golf championship, will also resume her campaign in the US circuit today (Thursday in the US) at the Pelican Women’s Championship at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida.

    Saso said the course has changed since she last saw action in the Japan Women’s Amateur golf meet.

    “The course has more ups and downs. I must be careful in going out of bounds. I am grateful we will have carts to transfer players in difficult spots,” said the Bulacan-born golfer after practicing on the layout located in the city famed for its hot springs and located 816.14 kilometers southwest of Japan.

    Saso is bidding to add the championship prize of 18 million yen (P8.6 million) to her leading total earnings of 82,753,170 yen (P38.3 million).