Saso thrilled over rare JLPGA stint

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso thrilled over rare JLPGA stint
Yuka Saso

MANILA, Philippines – Back in Japan, Yuka Saso can't wait to get going, armed with the same mindset and game that have marked her meteoric rise to the world ranking.

Yet, despite her status — as US Women's Open champ and world No. 5, the Fil-Japanese said she expects to learn more from her former rivals instead of the other way around.

“Here already in Japan. It’s been a while but I’m really looking forward to it,” said the ICTSI-backed Saso, who headlines the stellar cast in the TOTO Japan Classic unfolding November 4 in Shiga Prefecture.

Saso has insisted nothing has changed despite her record LPGA major breakthrough in San Francisco last June and her climb to No. 5 in the latest women’s golf world ranking, even expressing her willingness to grasp more knowledge from her rare return stint to the LPGA of Japan Tour.

“I’ll probably just focus on the tournament and learn more,” she said.

But the elite field in the upcoming $2 million event will surely be doing the focusing more and learning from the sport’s newest star, whose nine-tournament stint in the LPGA from June to October has netted her five Top 5 finishes highlighted by a major triumph and an impressive No. 3 ranking in the money race with $1.474 million in earnings.

Among the top 13 players in the world, Saso has played in the least number of tournaments with 39 with No. 14 Shanshan Feng of China competing in 35 events. The Asian Games double gold medalist also holds the No. 15 spot in the Race to CME Globe Season after competing in just eight tournaments.

Still, she would rather tone down expectations on her first JLPGA event since finishing joint ninth in the Bridgestone Open last May, saying there’s not much to expect from her in the upcoming blue-ribbon event.

“I’ll just play and focus on the process,” said Saso, who made quite an impact in her pro debut on the JLPGA last year, scoring two early victories and posting six other Top 10 finishes to emerge the top money earner while placing No. 2 in the Player of the Year derby before moving to the LPGA Tour.

She, however, also expects the JLPGA field to have improved a lot the last five months with at least three names — Mone Inami, Sakura Koiwai and Ayaka Furue — tipped to crowd her for top honors.

Inami, a silver medalist in the Olympics, has racked up seven Tour victories this year, including the Japan Ladies Professional Golf Championship, a major, in Ibaraki last month.

Koiwai, among the few whom Saso had faced in a number of title runs last year, has annexed four wins this season while Furue is hot on a back-to-back title romp in the Fujitsu Ladies and the Nobuta Group Masters the last two weeks.

JIyai Shin, who foiled Saso by three in last year’s edition of the premier event played over 54 holes at the Taiheiyo Club’s Minori course in Ibaraki, is also a marked player along with seasoned campaigners Ai Suzuki, Momoko Ueda, Saki Nagamine, Yuna Nishimura, Mamiko Higa, Eri Okayama, Minami Katsu and Ayaka Watanabe.

After the TOTO Classic, Saso heads back to the US for the LPGA's last two events with high hopes in the Pelicans Women's Championship and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, both in Alabama.

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