Saso yields top ranking; Hara cruises

Dante Navarro - Philstar.com
Saso yields top ranking; Hara cruises
Yuka Saso
Photo courtesy of usga.org

MANILA, Philippines — Yuka Saso came up short in her final round charge and missed another Top 10 finish in a JLPGA major, ending up joint 14th on a closing 70 in the Japan Women’s Open ruled by local ace Erika Hara in runaway fashion in Miyakawa City in Fukuoka Prefecture Sunday.

The Fil-Japanese also lost the Player of the Year top ranking after seven tournaments as rival Sakura Koiwai surged ahead with a runner-up finish worth 240 points, hiking her total to 784. Saso, who was ahead by 143 points on the strength of her back-to-back victories in NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies heading to JLPGA’s second major, slipped to second with 739.35 points.

Hara jumped from nowhere to third with 540 points followed by Earth Mondahmin Cup winner Ayaka Watanabe (520.10 points) and JLPGA Championship Minolta Cup titlist Saka Nagamine (507.25 points).

Saso, however, remained the money list leader with Y65,190,250 in earnings, counting the Y1,226,250 she claimed this week with Watanabe still in second (Y53,454,250) followed by Koiwai (Y52,559,000).

Saso, who faded in the final round and ended up joint 13th in JLPGA Championship in Okayama last month, never got going despite hitting two birdies against a bogey in the first three holes as she muffed at least a couple of birdie chances although she gunned down two more birdies, including on the last hole, against another bogey for a 34-36 card.

The ICTSI-backed bet assembled a 286 for a share of 14th with six others, winding up 14 strokes behind Hara, who turned the final round into a victory walk on her way to a 68 and a 16-under 272 for a four-shot romp over Koiwai for her first major victory in a three-year pro career.

Hara hardly slowed down after storming to a four-stroke lead on a brilliant 66 Saturday, unleashing another backside birdie-run to dash whatever hopes Koiwai had nurtured after going three-under on back-to-back birdies from No. 11.

For Hara went a stroke better, stringing three straight birdies from No. 11 for a commanding five-shot cushion before Koiwai birdied the par-5 15th to peg Hara’s winning margin that matched Nasa Hataoka’s four-shot triumph over Eri Okayama here last year.

The Yokohama City native pocketed the top Y22.5 million purse in a victory that came a year after she nailed her maiden triumph in the Resort Trust Ladies in Shizuoka where she earned Y14.4 million.

Koiwai also shot a 68 for a solo second at 276 worth Y12.375 million while Momoko Ueda and Sumika Nakasone carded identical 69s to share third at 280 while Minami Hiruta and first round leader Na-Ri Lee rebounded with 66 and 68, respectively, for joint fifth at 281.

After a 6-of-14 stint off the mound and failing to reach regulation eight times in the first round, Saso settled with her long game and missed just three fairways each in the next two days. But she lost her touch again yesterday, hitting just six fairways although she made up for her driving struggle by reaching all but two greens after missing five in the second round and seven in the third.

But it was her putting woes that hampered her campaign all week, finishing with 29-30-30-31 putts on The Classic Golf Club’s tough surface.

Over in Florida, Dottie Ardina faltered in a frontside finish and wound up with a 73 as she dropped to joint 35th after three rounds of the Symetra Classic now led by Taiwanese Peiyun Chien in Daytona Beach Saturday.

Ardina looked headed to submitting a second under-par round in three days with three straight birdies from No. 18 that negated a bogey on No. 13. But she --wavered with three bogeys in the last six, including the last two to finish with a 37-36 for a 214 that included a 69 and 72.

That was 12 shots behind Chien, who carded a 70 for a 202 and a one-stroke lead over American Lucy Li, who pooled a 203 after a 58 while Spain’s Fatima Cano also shot a 70 and gained a share of third at 206 with Anna Redding of the US, who slowed down with a 72 after back-to-back 67s.

Fil-Am Clariss Guce turned in a second straight 71 to move to joint 26th at 212.


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