Saso upends Furue but Hara wrests control
Yuka Saso

Saso upends Furue but Hara wrests control

Dante Navarro ( - November 26, 2020 - 4:04pm

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso toughened up at the back then pounced on Ayaka Furue’s late meltdown to gain in their hyped up duel with a 70 but Erika Hara took the spotlight with an eagle-spiked 67 in the opener of the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup in Miyazaki Prefecture Thursday.

Winner of the Japan Women’s Open last month in Fukuoka, Hara flaunted her flair for the majors, unleashing a strong start and a stronger finish, her eagle on the par-5 No. 2 and three birdies in the last six holes spiking a 34-33 card at the Miyazaki Country Club and netting her a one-stroke lead over Hinako Shibuno in the Y120 million event.

Her stirring 22-putt performance likewise proved to be the best in a day where pins were strategically placed to draw the elite cast into attacking the well-kept but unpredictable greens.

Most did and were rewarded with birdies that came in aplenty while others struggled setting up scoring opportunities, including Saso, who failed to get going with a two-birdie, two-bogey round at the front.

Furue likewise settled for a 36, her birdie on No. 6 negating a bogey on the third as the fancied pair tried to unnerve each other in a grudge match set up by the former’s imposing final round romp over the Fil-Japanese in last week’s Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open.

Shibuno also laced her 68 with an eagle on No. 9 as the long hitters took advantage of a couple of reachable par-5s although the world No. 15 missed joining Hara on top with a bogey on the 17th.

But focus was on the Saso-Furue faceoff in the final pairing of the 37-player field as the pair, disputing not only the tournament title but also the Player of the Year and money list honors in this final event of the pandemic-hit JLPGA season, leveled up their shootout in the last nine holes.

Furue, who dislodged the ICTSI-backed Saso from the top of the POTY derby on the strength of her back-to-back victories the last two weeks, appeared headed to clipping the latter the way she did in their final round of the Daio Paper tilt with a birdie-eagle feat from No. 12 to go three-under.

But just when she thought she had the course all figured out, the local ace lost her touch and rhythm and stumbled with bogeys on the next two holes and settled for pars in the last three holes for a 71.

Saso, hard-pressed to put up a strong finish to get into the mix, earlier birdied No. 11 and got some boost from that Furue mishap and birdied No. 15 and parred the rest to preserve a closing 34 for that two-under card.

Missing five fairways and four greens, Saso also blew a number of birdie chances, ending up with 31 putts as she joined four others at 10th place, including Earth Mondahmin Cup winner Ayaka Watanabe, three strokes off Hara.

Defending champion Bae Seon Woo of Korea, meanwhile, overcame a one-over card after 11 holes with three straight birdies from No. 12 then hit another on the 17th to rebound with a 69 for joint third with Mikajima Kana, Minami Hiruta, Momoko Euda, Sakura Koiwai and last year’s top player Ai Suzuki.

Six others shot 71s to join Furue at 15th while two-leg winner Shin Jie, winner of Fujitsu Ladies and Toto Classic, turned in three birdies against the same number of bogeys for solo 22nd.

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