Lee sizzles with 64; Saso staggers with 73
Yuka Saso
Lee sizzles with 64; Saso staggers with 73
Dante Navarro (Philstar.com) - October 1, 2020 - 5:19pm

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso flourished with her long game but foundered on The Classic Golf Club’s unreceptive greens, hobbling with a one-over 73 to fall nine strokes off a hot-starting Na-Ri Lee at the start of the Japan Women’s Open in Miyawaka City in Fukuoka Prefecture on Thursday.

Lee flashed her flair of the Majors, ramming in five birdies in a frontside finish to complete a solid eight-under 64 for a two-stroke lead over Sakura Koiwai, who outshot Saso and Ayaka Furue in the featured flight of early leg winners on the LPGA of Japan Tour.

Koiwai, the recent Golf5 Ladies champion, turned in her own version of a bogey-less 66 behind a brilliant day-long display of iron game that produced birdies from close range.

LPGA Tour veteran Momoko Ueda finally hit her stride after a couple of forgettable finishes upon her return from a sixth place effort in the British Women’s Open in Scotland, gunning down five birdies against a bogey for a 68 and a share of third with Erika Hara.

Kokone Yoshimoto carded a 69 tie Aya Kinoshita, Mizuki Tanaka and Sayaka Takahashi for fifth while Lala Anai fired a 70 for joint ninth with six others in the Y112.5 million tournament serving as the second major after the JLPGA Championship Minolta Cup won by Saki Nagamine in Okayama last month.

The 32-year-old Lee, who missed the cut in the two other JLPGA tournaments — Golf5 Ladies and Descante Tokai Classic — she had competed in this season, rallied to salvage joint second in the first major.

The ICTSI-backed Saso failed to shake off her putting woes and finished with two birdies against three bogeys, the last on the par-3 17th for a 36-37 that dropped her to joint 36th with 17 others, including Nagamine, Furue, 16-time JLPGA winner Ai Suzuki and last year’s runner-up Eri Okayama, in the 120-player starting field.

Her booming drives and early birdie on No. 3 coupled with Koiwai’s two birdies in the first four holes sparked hopes for a high-noon shootout between JLPGA’s top two players, who account for three of the first six titles disputed in the pandemic-shortened season of the region’s premier circuit.

Furue faded early with two bogeys in the first seven holes after humbling the elite field to capture the Descante Tokai Classic diadem last month. She, however, birdied the 15th to revive her hopes for the top Y22 million purse.

But as Koiwai, who foiled Saso’s three-leg win binge bid at Golf5 Ladies, sustained her assault with a hot iron game to shoot a pair of 33s, the NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies titlist and Player of the Year and money list leader failed to make full use of her awesome power, flubbing a number of birdie chances and a couple more par putts, including one that lipped the cup on No. 13, to lay too far behind the leader in an event she was aching to win following a final round meltdown in the first major that slipped her to joint 13th.

Over in Florida, Dottie Ardina tries to rebound from a so-so joint 35th place finish in last week’s IOA Classic as she resumes her final buildup for next week’s LPGA major — the PGA Championship — in the Symetra Classic beginning Friday in Daytona Beach.

Ardina kicks off her drive at 9:17 a.m. on No. 1 with Paraguay’s Milagros Chaves and England’s Alice Hewson.

Meanwhile, US-based Clariss Guce, who tied for 15th at IOA Classic starts at 8:55 a.m. with Vicky Hurst and Maddie McCrary of the US. Also on the first hole of the LPGA International, Jones course.

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