Saso scores breakthrough win in Japan

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    CHAMP Saso celebrating in file photo.
    CHAMP Saso celebrating in file photo.

    ASIAN Games double gold medalist Yuka Saso sizzled with a nine-under par 63 yesterday to clinch the NEC Karuizawa women’s golf crown by four shots at the par-72, 7,076-yard Karuizawa North Course in Nagano, Japan.

    Saso, who anchored a sweep of the women’s individual and team gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, virtually settled the issue on the front nine with a masterful five-under 31 with birdies on holes No. 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9.

    Playing in a zone, the Filipino-Japanese was likewise flawless going home with additional birdies on the 10th and 14th holes before wrapping it up with an eagle on the par-5, No. 16, en route to a four-under 32 on the back nine for her maiden win on the rich Japanese LPGA tour.

    Along with her rounds of 65-72 in the first two days, Saso lifted the winner’s trophy with a 54-hole total of 200, four strokes ahead of fellow tour rookies Mai Kawabashi and Saito Fujita, who tied for runner-up honors with scores of 64-204 and 66-204, respectively.

    The 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games veteran’s efforts were rewarded with the top prize of 14.4-million yen, an eye-popping equivalent of P6.58 million.

    Her victory raised her total winnings on the tour to 23,040 million yen (roughly P10,531,267), vaulting her to No. 2 in the Mercedes rankings.

    Saso made an impressive debut in the circuit last June, finishing in a five-way deadlock for fifth in the Earth Mondahmin Cup, two shots behind Japanese champion Ayaka Watanabe.

    She was poised for a breakthrough win after opening the NEC Karuizawa tournament with bogey-free 65 but came back to earth with an even par 72 in the next round.

    Saso’s success is expected to boost her ratings in the Olympic women’s qualifying rankings issued by the International Golf Federation.

    She is currently No. 46 in the latest IGF ratings released last Aug. 8 while Dottie Ardina, currently playing in the US LPGA tour, is six rungs lower at No. 52.

    A total of 60 players each in the men’s and women’s division will play in the Tokyo Olympic Games, with the top 15 in the IGF ratings of each division at the cutoff in June 2021 earning automatic tickets to the global sports showcase.

    The remaining slots will go to the highest-ranked players from countries that do not already have two golfers qualified, with a limit of two per country.

    The IGF has guaranteed that at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographical region (Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) will qualify.

    The IGF will post weekly lists of qualifiers based on current rankings for men and women.