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Saso, 2 other Filipina aces begin Lotte Championship bid

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso, 2 other Filipina aces begin Lotte Championship bid
Yuka Saso
Sarah Stier / Getty Images / AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The first time she had set out for the Lotte Championship on a sponsor’s exemption, Yuka Saso took command of the elite LPGA field in the first two rounds with back-to-back 64s at the Kapolei Golf Club. But ranged against former world No. 1 and two-time Major winner Lydia Ko in the third round, she flinched and eventually finished joint sixth in the event ruled by the Kiwi.

Back in Hawaii where her rise to golfing fame practically started last year but as a full-time LPGA member with a Major championship to boot, Saso launches her drive in the $2 million championship against multi-Major champion Inbee Park of Korea and American Austin Ernst at 12:50 p.m. on No. 1 of the Hoakelei Country Club Wednesday in Ewa Beach in Oahu (Thursday, Manila time).

Two other Filipinas are also in the roster, with Bianca Pagdanganan hoping to cash in on an early start at 7:22 a.m. with Scottish Gemma Dryburgh and Aussie Stephanie Kyriacou, also on the first hole; and Dottie Ardina kicking off her bid at the backside of the wind-raked layout at 9:01 a.m. with French Celine Herbin and Mariah Stackhouse of the US.

Pagdanganan had missed two cuts in her first three LPGA tournaments this year while finishing tied at 41st in the Drive On Championship. For her part, Ardina is making her first LPGA foray in the season after toughening up in the Epson Tour, sharing 17th in the Casino del Sol Golf Classic in Arizona three weeks ago.

Ardina actually started the final round just one stroke behind Andrea Lee but floundered with a birdie-less 76 and tumbled out of the Top 15.

But the veteran campaigner hopes to make the most of her chances this week, along with the power-hitting Pagdanganan, who is also due for a big finish in the world's premier ladies circuit.

Focus, however, will be on the spearhead of the ICTSI-backed Filipino contingent with the 20-year-old Saso itching to snap a string of mediocre finishes after launching the 2022 season with a sixth place effort in the Hilton Grand Vacations and a third place finish in the Gainbridge LPGA.

She is also out to check her slide in the world ranking, dropping to No. 12 last week after reaching as high as No. 5 for three weeks in October last year.

The reigning US Women’s Open champion missed the cut for the first time in 22 tournaments in the LPGA Drive On Championship then wound up tied 43rd in the Women’s World Championship in Singapore and shared 12th place in the Honda LPGA Thailand where she closed out with a solid 10-under 62.

She, however, failed to ride on that hot finish in the season’s first major — the Chevron Championship at Rancho Mirage in California early this month — where she wound up joint 17th.

But she expects to come out strong from a two-week break, so do the rest of the huge 144-player field, headed by defending champion Ko and Park, guaranteeing another four-day duel of shotmaking and mental toughness among the best of the best.

They include Japanese Nasa Hataoka, Brooke Henderson of Canada, Danielle Kang of the US, French Celine Boutier, Thai sisters Moriya and Ariya Jutanugarn and rising star Atthaya Thitikul, Ireland’s Leona Maguire, Koreans Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun, and first-time Major winner Jennifer Kupcho of the US.

Kupcho bucked a backside stumble to win the Chevron Championship by two over fellow American Jessica Korda. Kupcho clashes with Maguire and Boutier at 12:39 p.m. on No. 1

BIANCA PAGDANGANAN

DOTTIE ARDINA

GOLF

YUKA SASO

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