Saso blasts way to 67

Saso blasts way to 67

In another hot JLPGA start

MANILA, Philippines — Two weeks after ripping the NEC Karuizawa field with an explosive windup in Nagano, Yuka Saso dominated the same LPGA of Japan Tour cast with a blistering start in the Nitori Ladies tournament yesterday, her five-under 67 putting her in the hunt in the $1.8 million event in Hokkaido.

The power-hitting Fil-Japanese spiked her backside start with an eagle on the par-5, 525-yard 13th, recovering big from the rough with a solid 3-wood second shot from 225 yards that landed three feet off the cup. She then struck back from a bogey mishap on No. 15 with a solid run of four birdies at the front, including three straight from No. 5 of the Otaru Country Club.

“I had some good shots off the mound. But I didn’t expect to get such a good score since the course is difficult, so I was really satisfied,” said the 19-year-old Saso, who turned her failed bid in the LPGA Tour into a productive campaign in the region’s most lucrative circuit, debuting with a joint fifth place effort in Earth Mondahmin Cup in Chiba last June then blasting her way to victory in NEC Karuizawa.

Her early burst in the morning group actually put her in command of the 119-player field but Japanese Oshiro Satsuki rattled off six birdies in a scorching frontside finish at sundown to shoot a seven-under 65, dislodging the 2018 Asian Games gold medalist off the crowded leaderboard.

Satsuki hovered in the middle of the pack with a one-under card after nine holes but birdied Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 6 before closing out with back-to-back feats to storm past Saso in a torrid day of scoring at the Otaru Country Club with 41 players breaking par.

No one from among the morning group was able to match Saso’s five-under card in hot conditions as Sakura Koiwai wilted at the finish and flubbed a birdie putt on her closing par-5 ninth hole to settle for a 68, the same card turned in by Shina Kanazawa, Mayu Hamada and Rumi Yoshiba.

Shiho Oyama stumbled with a bogey on her way home on No. 8 to drop to joint third at 69 with Seira Oki, Ayano Yasuda, Hikaru Yoshimoto, amateur Sara Ota and Taiwanese Pei-Ying Tsai while Earth Mondahmin Cup winner Ayaka Watanabe carded a 70 for joint 14th with 10 others.

Aware of the challenges awaiting her at the Otaru CC, one of the most difficult courses on the JLPGA Tour, the Tokyo-based Saso moved to Hokkaido last Aug. 21 and made the most of the opportunity to familiarize herself with the layout and at the same time acclimatize.

“I thought it was cool but it was unexpectedly hot. Still, I made a thorough preparation and played for two straight days,” the ICTSI-backed ace shotmaker said.

It did help as the two-time Philippine Ladies Open titlist got going after three straight pars, eagling the 525-yard 13th off a solid drive and a superb second shot that landed 12 feet off the cup.