Fiery Yuka

Yuka Saso
Saso Yuka

THE Philippines’ Yuka Saso moved up despite slowing down, her bogey-free 69 thrusting her into a place that has slowly becoming familiar for the talented LPGA of Japan Tour rookie.

On a day when she struggled with her long game that has helped her claim a victory so early in her campaign, Saso came through with big recovery shots and used a near-impeccable iron play to gun down three birdies, salvage a couple of pars and wrest control halfway through the Nitori Ladies tournament at the Otaru Country Club in Hokkaido yesterday.

The power-hitting Fil-Japanese uncharacteristically failed to hit any birdie in any of the four par-5s, one of which she eagled in her opening 67, but the slowdown hardly impeded her rise to the top as she came away with three on the par-4 holes, lining herself up for a second consecutive win after blasting the same field in the NEC Karuizawa in Nagano two weeks ago.

Saso thus assembled an eight-under 138 and moved 36 holes away from pocketing a whopping $340,000 purse (roughly P16 million) in the $1.8 million event spread over four days.

Satsuki Oshiro, who spoiled Saso’s bid for first day honors with a late burst of frontside birdies for a 65 Thursday, found the par-72 layout not to her liking this time, bogeying three of the first five holes and limping with a 76 to tumble to joint 10th at 141.

But a host of others took up the challenge, including Hikaru Yoshimoto, who birdied three of the first four holes at the back to move within one but failed to catch up with Saso with pars the rest of the way. She finished with a 68 and kept the new leader within sight at 137.

Seira Ori also shot a 69 for solo third at 138, two shots adrift, while amateurs Hinano Muguruma and Sae Ogura turned in their own versions of three-under cards to lead the 139 scorers, who included Sakura Koiwai, Mayu Hamada and Shina Kanazawa, who all carded 71s, and Taiwanese Tsai Pei-Ying, who fired a 70.

But all would seem to need more than a couple of fiery rounds to stop the in-form, two-time Philippine Ladies Open titlist, who is expected to only get better, tougher in the last 36 holes the way she did in her past exploits, including in the 2018 Asian Games and at NEC Karuizawa.