Saso yields lead despite 67 but stays in record hunt
Yuka Saso
Photo courtesy of usga.org
Saso yields lead despite 67 but stays in record hunt
Dante Navarro (Philstar.com) - November 21, 2020 - 3:08pm

MANILA, Philippines — Yuka Saso clipped Yuna Nishimura with a late barrage of birdies for a 67 but Ayaka Furue sneaked from behind with a solid seven-under 64 that virtually reduced the fight for the Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open crown to two after the pivotal third round of the Y100 million event in Ehime Prefecture in Japan on Sunday.

Unable to shake off Nishimura in the first two rounds, Saso gained headway with a frontside 34 but it was not until she rebounded from an unlikely bogey on the par-5 11th, which she birdied in the past two days, that she finally got past the recent Mitsubishi Electric Ladies winner. The fired-up ICTSI-backed Fil-Japanese rammed in four straight birdies from No. 12 to spike a 34-33 card for a 54-hole total of 11-under 202 at the par-71 Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama.

Nishimura lost in the face of Saso’s backside blitz, muffing a couple of birdie chances to settle for an even par 71. She slipped from joint lead to a share of fourth with three others at 206.

But Furue, enjoying top form coming off a morale-boosting playoff win over Miki Sakai in Itoen Ladies last week, worked her way up from third place in a flight behind Saso and Nishimura, shooting seven birdies, including five in the last eight holes for that bogey-free 64.

The 20-year-old ace from Hyogo thus surged ahead by two on a 13-under 200 aggregate, sealing what promises to be a thriller of a shootout between two of the circuit’s top rookies boasting of two victories each in the pandemic-hit JLPGA season.

But Saso will be more than motivated to pull this one off as she seeks not only to seal the Player of the Year and the money list trophies but also become the first player to amass more than Y100 million in earnings in just 13 tournaments.

The 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist has raked in Y82,753,170 with this week’s winner to get Y18 million.

Kikuchi Erika also sizzled with a 65 but lay five strokes off Furue at 205 to earn the third spot in the championship flight.

Joining Nishimura at fourth are Earth Mondahmic Cup winner Ayaka Watanabe, Kana Nagai and Korean Lee Min-Young, who all fired 67s.

Momoko Ueda also fought back with a 66 but stood too far behind at 207 in a tie with 2018 winner Minami Katsu, who carded a 71, while Maiko Wakabayashia and Ji Hee Lee pooled identical 208s after a 67 and 69, respectively.

Sakura Koiwai, Saso’s fierce rival for the coveted Player of the Year honors, groped for form after a second round 68, turning in a 71 for a 209 in a tie with Bae Seon Won, who also matched par.

After a stirring 23-putt feat in her first round 65 to force a tie with Nishimura and Furue, Saso slowed down with 30 in the second day but recovered with 28 that somewhat made up for all but one of her four missed greens.

Unlike Saso, Furue, who also ruled the Tokai Classic last Sept., has maintained her consistency on the layout’s soft surface, improving to 27 after a 28 and 29 in the first two days and kept her mistakes on approaches to a minimum, finishing with three, five and two missed greens, respectively.

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