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Yuka now No. 76 in the world

Yuka Saso
Yuka Saso

THE Philippines’ Yuka Saso has moved up in the world rankings, her reward for winning back-to-back championships in the rich, tough Japanese Ladies Professional Golfers Association Tour.

aFrom No. 221 to No. 117, the red-hot Fil-Japanese ace broke into the world women’s Top 80 at No. 76, easily the next most significant leap recorded next to German Sophia Popov last month.

Saso, who actually stood at No. 282 at the end of last year, marked her debut in the LPGA of Japan Tour with a fifth place finish in the Earth Mondahmin Cup in Chiba last June to improve to No. 221.

Then her four-shot victory in the NEC Karuizawa in Nagano early last month drove her past a slew of players to post the biggest gain that week at No. 113 before settling for No. 117 heading to the Nitori Ladies tournament in Hokkaido.

With a strong start and a gutsy finish, the 19-year-old 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist topped the Nitori tilt and completed a rare back-to-back JLPGA title romp, thus crashing into the Top 80 with a 1.36-point average for total points of 47.52 over 14 tournaments.

Popov, however, posted the most astounding jump from No. 304 to No. 24 following her British Women’s Open romp in Scotland two weeks ago.

But with the pace she’s going, the ICTSI-backed Saso is expected to gain more points in the next 12 JLPGA tournaments and further improve her world ranking.

Korean Jin-Young Ko kept the No. 1 spot with American Danielle Kang staying at second behind her sweep of the LPGA events in Ohio last month.

In a recent interview, the power-hitting two-time Philippine Ladies Open titlist has set lofty goals – become world No. 1 and win the Olympic gold.

“I want to bring joy to Filipinos by becoming their first-ever world No. 1 golfer and to finish on top of the Olympic podium,” she said.

Though reaching the world top ranking would entail so much hard work, including earning a berth in the LPGA Tour, a crack at the Olympic gold could be a more rational target as she is expected to reach her full potential by the time the Tokyo Olympic Games, moved back to 2021 by the global health crisis, is held next August.

At No. 46 in the Olympic ranking, Saso is expected to clinch one of the two slots allotted for the Philippines in the sport in the quadrennial games, the other being held by Dottie Ardina at No. 52 although LPGA Tour rookie Bianca Pagdanganan is expected to join the chase.

Meanwhile, though she failed to make an impact in her third LPGA tournament, the power-hitting Pagdanganan regained the driving honors with average distance of 289.950 yards. The 22-year-old shotmaker outdrove the LPGA field right in her maiden tournament at Drive On where she tied at 28th but yielded the honors to Mexico’s Maria Fassi after the Marathon LPGA Classic where she shared 59th place.

She struggled and ended up tied at 71st in last week’s NW Arkansas Championship but succeeded in toppling Fassi (284.474) for the driving honors.

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