Saso one down in Tourney of Champs

Olmin Leyba - The Philippine Star
Saso one down in Tourney of Champs
Yuka Saso.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Fil-Japanese Yuka Saso fired an eagle-spiked four-under 68 to run just one shot off Mexican solo leader Gaby Lopez in the first round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions yesterday in Orlando, Florida.

Playing in her first event since switching to Japanese citizenship earlier this week, Saso highlighted her 35-33 card with a 60-yard, hole-out eagle on the par-4 No. 14 as she zoomed to joint second in the season-opener at the Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.

The 20-year-old Saso shared No. 2 spot with top-ranked American Nelly Korda, Ryann O’Toole and 2021 runner-up Danielle Kang behind Lopez, who overturned a bogey start on No. 11 with six birdies heading home for a 67.

Saso, who won the US Women’s Open last year while carrying the Philippine flag, didn’t seem bothered by the event’s unusual format of pairing the pros with celebrities. The 2018 Asian Games double-gold winner played alongside World Series champions Tom Glavine and Jon Lester.

“I’m very thankful I was able to play in this event,” said the Tournament of Champs debutant, who hit 12 of 14 fairways and led the field in driving distance with a 279-yard average off the tee.

She could have tied for the lead if not for a bogey on the 18th.

She mixed four birdies with three bogeys in the front nine before going on an eagle-birdie-birdie binge from No. 14. “That eagle, that was unexpected but I hit a good shot. Landed probably a foot left of the hole and spun back and went in. I was surprised but that was really good,” she said.

Saso had a blast chatting with flightmates Glavine and Lester along the way.

“It was very fun. We talked a little and it was really good. I knew they were baseball players but I had no idea what they’ve done or what they do so I asked a lot of questions. I like baseball but I’m not a fan of any teams. But I like watching,” she shared.

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