Saso targets 3rd major victory on 23rd birthday

Jan Veran - Philstar.com
Saso targets 3rd major victory on 23rd birthday
Yuka Saso of Japan watches her tee shot on the third hole on day two of the T-Mobile Match Play presented by MGM Rewards at Shadow Creek Golf Course on April 04, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Orlando Ramirez / Getty Images / AFP

MANILA, Philippines – With her spot in the Paris Olympics secured, Yuka Saso can now fully concentrate on winning consecutive major titles — and her third overall — in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which begins Thursday in Sammamish, Washington (Friday Manila time).

Saso was among a select group of pros who tested the par-72 Sahalee Country Club course during Tuesday’s pro-am tournament and appreciated the challenges of the 6,731-yard layout, which demands precision on every shot.

Despite missing the cut in her last LPGA tournament before the season’s third major championship, Saso remains upbeat about her chances. She is confident in her game following a rousing victory in the US Women’s Open in Pennsylvania last month.

Meanwhile, she braces for an early clash of power, resolve, and skill in the first two rounds of the 70th staging of the $10.4-million championship, drawing former World No. 1 and Solaire ambassador Jin Young Ko and Lexi Thompson in the 1:28 p.m. flight on No. 1.

The good luck that a birthday brings could also work in Saso’s favor, as she turns 23 on Thursday. However, it will take more than good fortune for the World No. 6 to repeat her success against the formidable field she overcame to win her second US Women’s Open crown.

The ICTSI-backed Saso lost to Ruoning Yin by one stroke in a stormy final round at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey last year. Despite posting two other top-three finishes in 2023 and one top-10 finish in nine tournaments this year, the 2018 Asian Games gold medalist for Team Philippines broke her winless streak with a major triumph, securing a three-stroke victory over Hinako Shibuno.

Her performance this week is also expected to fuel her drive for the coveted gold medal in the Olympics next month, where she will compete against practically the same field she will face this week.

Other marquee matchups in the first two days of the Women’s PGA include World No. 1 Nelly Korda, Hannah Green, and defending champion Yin at 8:11 a.m. on No. 10; Rose Zhang, Celine Boutier, and Nasa Hataoka at 7:49 a.m., also at the back nine; Atthaya Thitikul, Hyo Joo Kim, and Sophia Popov at 8:06 a.m. on the first hole; Shibuno, Patty Tavatanakit, and Danielle Kang at 12:55 p.m., also at the front nine; Lilia Vu, Minjee Lee, and Linn Grant at 1:17 p.m. on No. 1; and Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, and Ariya Jutanugarn at 1:39 p.m. on the first hole.

Olympic-bound Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina also seek to make an immediate impact in a major championship. Pagdanganan will launch her drive against Nataliya Guseva and Isabella Fierro at 8:39 a.m. on No. 1, while Ardina will face off against Morgane Metraux and Allie Knight at 9:12 a.m., also on the first hole.

The 156-player field includes nine past champions, including Korda and Henderson, and 44 of the top 50 players in the women’s world golf rankings, with all players in the top 25 competing.

The event also serves as part of the buildup for players vying in the Paris Games and offers precious points for the season’s prestigious awards, including the Rolex Player of the Year, led by Korda with 214 points, followed by Green (72 points) and Saso (62 points). The ANNIKA Major Award is also a key focus, with Korda and Saso jointly leading with 60 points, and Shibuno and Maja Stark each with 24 points.

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