Saso sizzles, wavers, rebounds to fire a 69; Pagdanganan cards 71

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso sizzles, wavers, rebounds to fire a 69; Pagdanganan cards 71
Bianca Pagdanganan and Yuka Saso
AFP photos

MANILA, Philippines – Yuka Saso nearly squandered a scorching backside start with a mid-round struggle but regained her composure at the finish to turn in a three-under 69 and seize a share of 19th at the start of the Honda LPGA Thailand in Chonburi Thursday.

Though she stood five strokes off a hot-starting Peiyun Chien, Saso’s late surge sparked optimism for a strong performance in the $1.7 million tournament at the Siam Country Club.

The 2021 US Women’s Open champion began her title pursuit with three consecutive birdies from No. 10 but a mishap on the 17th and another misstep on No. 3 set her back, dropping to the middle of the 72-player starting pack.

But she birdied No. 5 and holed out with another on the ninth to save a 35-34, anchored on a 28-putt showing on the challenging Old course.

While hitting all but three fairways with a 278-yard drive, the ICTSI-backed Saso faced challenges on her way to the green, going out regulation five times. Despite this, she managed to rescue one par from the bunker, putting herself in the early mix of the 72-hole championship, the first of the two-leg Southeast Asia swing of the LPGA Tour.

Bianca Pagdanganan, meantime, marked her return to the lucrative circuit with a 71, narrowly missing a better score with a bogey on the par-5 18th. Her round featured a mix of highs and lows, including a bogey on the par-3 No. 8 and birdies on the next two holes.

She settled for a 36-35 for joint 42nd.

Opting for a conservative 267-yard driving clip, Pagdanganan matched Saso’s 11 fairways hit but struggled reaching the greens, missing seven. She finished with 29 putts.

But the standout performance of the day belonged to the unfancied Chien, who sparkled with a 64 highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 seventh. Her seven birdies offset a lone bogey on No. 14.

The Taiwanese finished with 24 putts on a 12-fairway hit, despite missing five greens.

But a host of aces lurked behind Chien, including major champions Sei Young Kim of Korea and Canadian Brooke Henderson, who shot 66 and 67, respectively.

Thai Patty Tavatanakit also joined the mix by birdying the last three holes to tie Henderson at third.

Japanese Ayaka Furue and six others also turned in identical three-under cards, including Koreans Jenny Shin, Mi Hyang Lee and Hyo Joo Kim, Swede Madelene Sagstrom, Thai Natthakritta Vongtaveelap and Germany’s Esther Henseleit.

In Taiwan, Dottie Ardina mounted a backside rally but stumbled with a late bogey to end up with a one-over 73 for joint 17th in the Foxconn TLPGA Players Championship paced by Korean Jin Hee Im at the Orient Golf and Country Club in Taoyuan City.

Im highlighted her 67 with an eagle on No. 1 and hit six birdies against three bogeys as she took a three-stroke lead over locals Yu Ju Chen, Juliana Hung and Min Lee and Japanese Serena Aoki, who all carded 70s.

Ardina groped for form in the early going, yielding strokes on Nos. 3 and 8. But the LPGA and Epson Tour campaigner, also sponsored by the world’s leading port operator, birdied two of the first three holes at the back to draw level and rebounded from another mishap on the 13th with a birdie on No. 15.

But she failed to get up-and-down on the 17th and finished with a 38-35 for a share of 17th, six strokes off the Taiwanese leader.

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