Saso's fiery start fizzles out, falls to T-7th with 70

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso's fiery start fizzles out, falls to T-7th with 70
Yuka Saso of Japan plays her shot from the 18th tee during the second round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 21, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.
Julio Aguilar / Getty Images North America / Getty Images via AFP

MANILA, Philippines — It took Yuka Saso four holes to gain a shared view of the top and another four to wrest solo control of the Tournament of the Champions. 

But it also took her just two holes to blow it as she stumbled at the back and tumbled to joint seventh after a 70 as world No. 1 Nelly Korda acted out her role as leader with a fiery 66 halfway through the $1.2 million championship in Florida Friday (Saturday, Manila time).

Saso looked headed to grabbing the second day honors with three birdies in the first four holes then hitting another on the eighth to storm ahead at eight-under overall at the Lake Nona course. 

But the reigning US Women’s Open champion lost her putting touch and momentum at the back, fumbling with back-to-back bogeys from No. 11 and missing a couple of missed opportunities at the finish for a 32-38.

Korda also made an early charge of two birdies in the first four holes but unlike Saso, she bucked a bogey on the fifth with a cluster of five birdies on her way to a pair of 33s and a one-stroke lead over fellow American Danielle Kang with a 134 total.

Kang, who lost in a playoff to Korda’s sister Jessica last year, dealt with her unfinished business with an eagle-aided, bogey-free 67 as she tied Gaby Lopez at 135 as the erstwhile Mexican frontrunner squandered a five-under card after 11 holes with bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17 after virtually losing her poise following a flubbed birdie-putt from three feet on No. 14.

She, however, recovered her bearing and birdied the last hole to save a 68.

Jessica Korda also pressed her bid for back-to-back feats as she churned out a solid 67 for solo fourth at 136 but French Celine Boutier and Canadian Brooke Henderson pooled identical 137s after a 67 and 68, respectively, to make it a crowded leaderboard heading to the weekend play of the 72-hole championship spiced up by the celebrity side event.

The ICTSI-backed Saso, who launched her campaign as a full-time LPGA member with a 68 Thursday (Friday, Manila time) and trailed Lopez by just one, slipped to joint seventh at 138 with multi-major winner Inbee Park of Korea, who rallied with a 67, now four strokes behind but still within striking distance with 36 holes to play in the event made up of the 29 winners in the past two years.

Saso, 20, missed just three fairways and two greens but grappled with her balky putter and finished with 32 putts, three more than the previous round.

Meanwhile, World Series champion Derek Lowe assembled 69 points after a 37 to snatch the lead from Swede golf legend and Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam and MLB All-Star Mark Mulder, who pooled 68s after a 35 and 36, respectively, in the celebrity competition.

Saso’s celebrity playing partners Tom Glavine and fellow hurler Jon Lester fell way off with 58 and 44 points, respectively.

In contrast, the world No. 8 moved up with birdies on Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 8 and appeared headed to sustaining her run at the back, which she mastered with an eagle-spiked 33 Thursday (Friday in Manila).

But after nearly chipping in another birdie on the ninth and a routine par on the 10th, Saso three-putted the par-5 11th, the second easiest hole in the day, then dropped another stroke after missing the next green.



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