Saso closes in with 68; Korda holds sway

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso closes in with 68; Korda holds sway
Yuka Saso of Japan plays her shot from the 12th tee during the third round of the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on January 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.
Julio Aguilar / Getty Images / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — With her putting complementing well with her long game and iron play in tough conditions, Yuka Saso produced one of the day's three best 68s Saturday and moved three strokes off American Nelly Korda heading to the final round of the Tournament of Champions bracing for a nail-biter of a shootout among major champions in Florida.

Saso flashed superb ball control in wet conditions, hitting 10 fairways and 15 greens and bucking the unreceptive surface of Lake Nona Golf and Country Club with 29 putts, gaining a stroke off Korda's overnight four-shot lead for a crack at the crown in the $1.2 million championship kicking off the new LPGA Tour season.

“My tee shots were pretty much consistent, and I putted good compared to the first two days. I think I have gotten used to the speed of the greens,” said Saso, who birdied three of the first nine holes then bounced back from a bogey-mishap on No. 13 with back-to-back birdies from No. 15 for a 33-35.

Her 206 aggregate, however, kept her three shots off the world No. 1, who stayed at the helm at 203 after shooting four birdies against a bogey for a 69, keeping Daniella Kang and 2020 champion Gaby Lopez at bay despite the duo's pair of bogey-free three-under cards for 204s.

Brooke Henderson matched Saso’s output, a solid pair of 34s that also put the Canadian in the title hunt at 205, setting the stage for a riveting final round test of will and character among major champions (Korda (2021), Kang (2017), Henderson (2016) – all Women's PGA Championship, and Saso – US Women's Open).

“It’s wet and windy and there’s not much roll from the tee and you have to go for the flag on your second shot knowing it’s not gonna stop,” said the ICTSI-backed Saso. “But I think I’m doing a good job this week. So, hopefully, I can keep this up.”

Keeping pace with the competition is one thing, chasing a solid player like Korda is another.

“I think I played pretty solid. You know, I could have made some more putts but in all, I’m really happy with how my round went,” said 2021 Women’s PGA Championship winner Korda, who birdied Nos. 3, 7, 11 and 14 to negate a bogey on the 12th, for her 11th consecutive round in the 60s, going back to last year’s Pelican Championship, which she won.

“The conditions were tough, It was cold, rainy and got a little windy, so in all, I’m very happy with a three-under,” she added.

Kang also bucked cold conditions to churn out a bogey-free card marked by birdies on Nos. 5, 13, 14, keeping her stab at T-of-C glory after getting foiled by Jessica Korda, who drained a long birdie putt to beat the former in sudden death at Lake Buena Vista last year.

“I made a couple of swings out there where I just froze up. My body doesn’t react that well in the cold,” said Kang, who won the 2017 Women’s PGA Championship. “But I’m proud of how far I’ve come to be able to swing and perform and be consistent instead of just succumb to the weather.”

Lopez, on the other hand, also stayed on track of regaining the crown she won in 2020 over Nasa Hataoka via a grueling seven-hole playoff that took an extra day to finish, hitting three birdies in the last 10 holes to stay glued with Kang at second, just a stroke off Korda.

Henderson, the youngest winner of PGA Championship at 16, likewise put herself in strong contention with that flawless 68, looking for a follow-up to her victory in the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open.

Meanwhile, three down, Saso believes she still has a shot at the crown given the level of play of the contenders ahead of her but she underscored the need to keep a good frame of mind.

“I’ll just stay focused and have fun, do my best and play good golf,” said the world No. 8.



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