SOUTH Korean Shin Jie survived the final-round charge of Filipino-Japanese Yuka Saso with superb shot-making on the last two holes yesterday, firing an eagle-aided 66 to rule the TOTO Japan Classic by three shots at the Taehiyo Club Minori course in Omitama, Japan.
Shin saw her overnight six-stroke lead vanish by the time she got to the 16th hole as Saso, playing a flight ahead, sizzled with a nine-under 63, capped by three straight birdies on holes Nos. 16 to 18, over the par-72, 6,554-yard layout 91.2 kilometers northeast of the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
Eager to avoid a playoff, the 12-year Japanese LPGA tour veteran held her ground, countering the Pinoy tour rookie’s fiery windup with an eagle on No. 17, a par five, then closed out her round with a birdie on the next to pocket the top prize of 24 million yen (roughly P11.1 million) with a total tally of 197.
Bouncing back from a missed cut stint in her last tournament, Saso settled for the runner-up purse of 14,637,920 yen (P6.8 million) and a 200 total after shooting 70 and 67 in the previous rounds.
The 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist’s second place finish enabled her to regain the top spot in the JLPGA Mercedes women’s rankings with 982.85 points while boosting her total earnings to an eye-popping 82,753,120 yen (P38.577 million) in just 11 tournaments in her maiden appearance on the circuit.
Keen on regaining lost ground, Saso slowly warmed up and found her putting touch, beginning with her first birdie of the day on hole No. 4 before adding three more on Nos. 6, 7 and 9 for a 4-under 32 at the front.
She had reduced Shin’s lead to four shots at the halfway mark after the South Korean sustained her bogey-less performance with a 34 on the front nine, highlighted by birdies on the first and seventh holes.
Saso continued to chip away at the South Korean’s edge and was only down by two shots with two more birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 before closing out her stellar performance with three birdies in a row for a 5-under 31, good for a one-shot provisional clubhouse lead, waiting to see if Shin would crack.
But the South Korean veteran showed nerves of steel, tying the Filipina with a birdie on No. 15 before closing out with a flourish with an eagle-birdie finish.