Saso out to improve world ranking in Florida tilts

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso out to improve world ranking in Florida tilts
Yuka Saso of Japan hits her tee shot on the 16th hole during the second round of the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer on the Bay Course at Seaview Golf Club on October 02, 2021 in Galloway, New Jersey.
Sarah Stier / Getty Images / AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso won’t be heading to South Korea for the BMW Championship next week but will proceed to Florida for the last two events of the LPGA Tour early next month, seeking to cap a historic maiden campaign on the world’s premier ladies circuit.

That includes an attempt for the world No. 3 ranking at the most after the US Women’s Open champion reached a career-best No. 5 following a joint fourth effort in the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey last week.

Passing up the chance to play for the first time in the $2 million Busan meet, the ICTSI-backed ace will instead make a homecoming of sorts to Japan, most probably to spice up the stellar field in the TOTO Classic where she placed second last year.

“My next tournament will be in Japan,” said Saso, hinting at a comeback stint in the November 4-7 event in Shiga Prefecture, which was originally part of the LPGA calendar but was shelved due to travel restrictions.

After falling short of her bid in LPGA Q-School Stage 2 in late 2019, Saso gained a card on the LPGA of Japan Tour where she launched her pro career, immediately creating an impact with back-to-back championships from her second event.

She went on to post six other Top 10 finishes and ended the season at No. 1 and 2 in the money and Player of the Year derbies, respectively, earning her invites and exemptions in the US LPGA Tour, including the US Women’s Open in late 2020 where she tied for 13th.

She would eventually win one of LPGA five majors last June that made her an instant celebrity while netting her a five-year membership status in the world’s premier ladies circuit.

“I’m also playing the last two tournaments in the LPGA,” added the 20-year-old Fil-Japanese, referring to the Pelican Women’s Championship on November 11-14 at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair and the season-ending CME Globe Tour Championship on November 18-21 at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples.

Saso’s name was actually conspicuously missing in the early roster of both events until it was included in the latest post of the LPGA Tour site.

The then amateur Saso has already set lofty goals for herself as early as in mid-2019, that is, becoming the world’s No. 1 and winning the Olympic gold. While she failed to contend for top honors in her first crack at the Quadrennial Games in Tokyo last August where she wound up at joint ninth, she remains on track of her world-ranking target given her ever-improving performance.

But behind by more than 100-plus points to No. 3 Inbee Park (353.51) and No. 4 Sei Young Kim (354.46) with 222.37 total points, Saso will need to finish no lower than third in the Pelican Championship and hope that the Korean aces would flounder to go a notch or two higher in the rankings.

The Pelican is the final event of the season prior to the CME Group Tour Championship, which will feature the top 60 players in the Race to the CME Globe 2021 where Saso is currently at No. 14.

Winner of official LPGA event earns 500 points while the second and third placers gain 320 and 230 points, respectively.

Looking back at her productive LPGA campaign, Saso said it has been a good year but maintained she’s in no hurry to rush things up.

“I think this year has been really good. I’ve had good finishes the last couple of weeks,” said Saso, referring to her tied for fourth efforts in both the Arkansas Championship and the Cognizant Founders Cup that sandwiched her joint 19th place finish in the ShopRite Classic.

“Winning the US Open was a gift and I’m really having fun, too,” she said. “Yeah, it’s really been a good year and I’m really very thankful.”

With a US Open win and world No. 5 ranking, Saso remains more than willing to learn as she braces for more title shots in the majors next year and beyond.

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