Saso, Furue face off as Ricoh Cup unfolds
Yuka Saso

Saso, Furue face off as Ricoh Cup unfolds

Dante Navarro (Philstar.com) - November 25, 2020 - 11:13am

MANILA, Philippines — With so much at stake, expect nothing but a shootout right in Thursday's first round of the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh, a virtual match play among 37 select players whose solid performances in the past couple of years have merited them spots in the LPGA of Japan Tour’s final major championship in Miyazaki Prefecture.

It will not only be a duel of shotmaking, iron game and putting but also a test of patience, resiliency, nerves and composure.

And there couldn’t be a more fitting way to kick off the Y120 million championship, which offers Y30 million to the winner, than to mix Ayaka Furue and Yuka Saso in the final pair of a star-studded cast at 10:54 a.m. on No. 1 of the Miyazaki Country Club.

Locked in a fierce battle not only for the coveted Player of the Year honors but also for the money list title, Furue, 20, and Saso, 19, set out for what could go down as one of the most explosive duels in JLPGA history as the young guns try to fuel their respective bids for the top Y30 million purse and the two other honors up for grabs.

Both are also out to become the first player in JLPGA history to exceed Y100 million in winnings in just 14 tournaments with the ICTSI-backed Saso, with an accumulated earnings of Y89,253,170, needing just a third place effort to accomplish the feat.

Furue, who moved to world No. 16 after scoring back-to-back victories in Itoen Ladies and Daio Paper Elleair Open the last two weeks, is behind with Y73,102,292 in winnings.

But the Japanese ace has surged ahead in the Player of the Year derby, posting 1131.78 points as Saso dropped to second with 1048.85 points with Sunday’s winner to gain 400 points, the runner-up to earn 240 points and the third placer to receive 180 points.

While Saso, who improved to No. 48 in the world, is banking on her power game that netted her victories in the NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies, Furue is flourishing with her consistency and accuracy she had put in full display in outplaying Saso in the final round of the Daio Paper Elleair Open.

But the pressure to deliver in a nerve-wracking battle – where four records could be set – could be too much to bear for the rookie campaigners with the veterans in the fold, including last year’s top player Ai Suzuki, defending champion Bae Seon Woo of Korea, world No. 15 Hinako Shibuno, and this year’s two-leg winner and 2018 champion Shin Jie, ready to pounce.

Other marque match-ups pit Japan Women’s Open titlist Erika Hara and Golf5 Ladies champion Sakura Koiwai at 10:46 a.m., Earth Mondahmin Cup champ Ayaka Watanabe and Mitsubishi Electric winner Yuna Nishimura at 10:38 a.m., LPGA Tour campaigner Momoko Ueda and JLPGA Minolta Cup titlist Saki Nagamine at 10:30 a.m., Jie and Suzuki at 10:22 a.m., and Bae and Stanley Ladies titlist Mone Inami at 10:14 a.m.

Saso surprised and impressed the field by fashioning out those back-to-back victories last August, wresting the early POTY lead and taking command in the money list. But her game took a downswing from there, her joint eighth place finish proving to be her best in her next six tournaments.

The slump likewise enabled Koiwai to seize the POTY lead and led to a first-ever missed cut in the Mitsubishi Electric in 10 tournaments. Saso, however, bounced back with a strong runner-up effort in the Toto Classic that put her back in the Mercedes lead while firming up her hold of the top spot in the money race.

A second missed cut in the Itoen Ladies and a share of third in last week’s Daio Paper Elleair Open coupled with Furue’s sweep of the two events put the latter on top of the Player of the Year race.

GOLF YUKA SASO
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