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Saso ends slump, ties for lead with solid 64 in Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso ends slump, ties for lead with solid 64 in Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
Yuka Saso

MANILA, philippines – Yuka Saso snapped an alarming run of mediocre finishes with a brilliant seven-under 64 as she led a crowded leaderboard in a sprint race to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in Rogers, Arizona Friday (Saturday, Manila time).

A week-long break last week did wonders for the 2021 US Women’s Open champion, who came into the $2.3 million event fresh and in fine form, hitting all but two fairways on a big 299-yard driving clip. She was also on target of the pins, missing just one green while finishing with 28 putts.

But five others matched her sizzling start at the par-71 Pinnacle Country Club course, which took a severe beating from the world’s best with 88 players breaking par at least with 70s, the projected cutoff score in the 54-hole championship.

Seventeen others produced 71s but would need to go low Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to at least get into Sunday’s money race shaping up to be wild and wide-open.

Over the 6,438-yard course, short by the field’s standards, precision is key and Saso, along with a host of others, delivered to make it a jam-packed leaderboard of varying talent and skills.

“Precision is pretty important here. You have to hit a good shot off the tee so you can give yourself a chance at the green. And you have to putt well,” said Saso, who skipped the Portland Classic in Oregon last week to work on her game following an unremarkable tied for 33rd finish in the Kroger Queen City Championship.

She also struggled and ended up joint 38th in the Dana Open after posting back-to-back missed cut stints in the CP Women’s Open and the season’s final major, the AIG Women’s Open.

After turning in a tied for 12th finish in the Cognizant Founders Cup last May, the ICTSI-backed ace’s game took a downswing, failing to advance in the US Women’s Open which she ruled via sudden death over this week’s defending champion Nasa Hataoka, and the Meijer LPGA Classic. She tied for 30th in the Women’s PGA Championship then missed the cut again in the next major, the Evian Championship, before ending up tied for 24th in the Scottish Open.

Consequently, she made a steady drop in the world rankings — slipping from No. 8 to No. 12 to No. 20, No. 26 before heading to this week’s championship at No. 33. She reached a career-best ranking at No. 5 in October 2021.

But with a solid start and a new-found confidence, Saso hopes to sustain her form although she slowed down a bit at the back of the 36-35 layout with a 33 after a fiery frontside assault of five birdies in the first nine holes.

She birdied the first two holes, added another on No. 4 and made another back-to-back feats from No. 7 before settling for two birdies on Nos. 10 and 18.

“My shots were very consistent,” said Saso. “I didn’t really miss any shots. I chipped really well and my putting was pretty good, too.”

But a slew of aces also got into the early mix with Americans Megan Khang, Ryann O’Toole and Lauren Coughlin and Koreans Sei Young Kim and Jeongeun Lee5 producing their own versions of 64s and Taiwanese Vivian Hou and Lilia Vu of the US matching 65s.

Six others posted 66s, including England’s Georgia Hall and Chinese Muni He, while Kiwi Lydia Ko and Thai ace Atthaya Thitikul led the 67s scorers, who included Danielle Kang and Jennifer Kupcho of the US, Korean Jeongeun Lee6, while world No. 2 Nelly Korda, also of the US, shot a 68 for a share of 32nd with 17 others, including French Celine Boutier, Japanese Ayaka Furue, Swede Anna Nordqvist and Hataoka.

GOLF

YUKA SASO

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