Holding lead briefly, Saso trails ace-powered front-runner Olson by 2
Yuka Saso stood at the edge of the fairway at Cypress Creek’s No. 9 and hit a laser-like approach to within tap-in distance of the cup. She wound up with a birdie, her fourth at the front nine of one of the two Champions Golf Club layouts being used for the US Women’s Open, and the lead in one of the LPGA’s toughest Majors.
“Actually, [I was] not really thinking about [my game]; just hoppin’,” the Filipino-Japanese ace later told journalists.
She encountered a rough patch in the back nine, though, with two bogeys dragging her two shots out of the lead after a two-under 69 on Thursday (Friday in the Philippines) in Houston, Texas.
Saso, the Japan LPGA hotshot making her debut in the Majors, joined a seven-person tie for fifth place behind Amy Olson, whose hole-in-one on Cypress Creek’s 139-yard No. 16 fueled a 67 that left her alone on top.
Japan’s Hinako Shibuno, Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn and South Korea’s A Lim Kim were tied for a second a stroke behind Olson. Jutanugarn and Kim played on the Jackrabbit Course, the other layout being used for the tournament, while Shibuno toured Cypress Creek.
Another Filipino, Bianca Pagdanganan, fired a one-over 72 at Jackrabbit to stay plugged in a huge group tied for 37th. Pagdanganan, the LPGA’s longest hitter off the tee, mixed three birdies with two bogeys and a double bogey for her score.
Saso looked ready to charge up the leaderboard after a collected first round but fumbled at No. 11, one of the Champions’ toughest holes in the tournament. Playing 429 yards on Thursday, the hole is Cypress’ longest par four and has the highest average to par of any hole during past events in the men’s tour.
After her bogey there, Saso managed to hold even over the six next holes, keeping her within a shot of the lead.
“For me … bogey comes [because it’s] golf, you know,” Saso said. “I didn’t really feel anything. Just go for the next hole and do your best.
But she failed to salvage par in the 18th hole and further dropped a shot back.
“It’s real different [here than in Japan],” Saso said. “It’s [a] Major and the golf courses are tough. It’s long. The greens are firm and I have to use driver off the tee. In the JLPGA, I have to use shorter club, so that’s the difference.”
Only 23 of the 156 players in the field finished under par on Thursday.
“Obviously, US Women’s Open golf courses are tough to learn one, but trying to learn two tough courses is definitely a big task for everyone this week,” said South Korea’s Inbee Park, a seven-time major champion who shot even par at Jackrabbit. “But with the sunlight [limited], we kind of have to do it.”
Kim opened with three birdies on her first five holes while playing the back nine, but she followed with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16. She had two birdies and no bogeys on the front nine.
“The start went well,” Kim said. “I was able to get a good pace on it and get the balls closer to the green so finish well.”
Jutanugarn closed a bogey-free round with eight consecutive pars. Shibuno logged four birdies and a single bogey.
Shibuno said, “Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be bad, so that’s why I … have to persevere, so I have to be tenacious. I have to play tenacious, patient golf tomorrow.”
Defending champion Jeongeun Lee of South Korea shot 73, putting her in a tie for 55th place. Countrywoman Ko Jin-young, No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, also shot 73, with both playing Cypress Creek.
Sung Yu-jin of South Korea also had a hole-in-one, acing No. 4. However, she managed only a 5-over 76 in her US Women’s Open debut, with five bogeys, a double bogey and no birdies. —WITH REPORTS FROM REUTERS
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