Saso blows bid with 75, settles for joint 6th
MANILA, Philippines (Updated 5:54 p.m.) — Yuka Saso blew her stab at glory with a run of misfortunes, hobbling with a three-over 75 to end up joint sixth in the JLPGA Tour Championship Ricoh Cup ruled by Erika Hara in emphatic fashion at the Miyazaki Country Club in Miyazaki Prefecture on Sunday.
Staying within three shots off Hara with pars in the first four holes, Saso faded with three straight bogeys from No. 5 on errant shots and a poor short game. Though she fought back with birdies on Nos. 8 and 10, disaster struck the Fil-Japanese, who overshot the par-5 11th on her second shot, needing to use her left hand to extricate herself out of a bad lie from under a tree.
She landed in the bunker and blasted way off target for another bogey that all but dashed her hopes for at least a third place finish that would make her the first player to hit Y100 million in earnings after 14 tournaments.
Instead, her four-under 284 total dropped her to a share of sixth with three others, six strokes behind the lanky Hara, who bucked a bogey on the par-5 second with at three clutch pars from long range.
But in a latest JLPGA advisory, the 2020 season will be extended to early next year with the circuit to add more events to make up for the cancellation of some tournaments this year due to the global health crisis, keeping the ICTSI-backed Saso on track for the Player of the Year honors.
Hara, meanwhile, went on to gun down three birdies to pull away from a rallying Ayaka Furue and clinch her second major after winning the Japan Women's Open last October despite two bogeys in the last five holes for a 72 and a 278.
The 21-year-old Hara banked the top purse of Y30 million and moved to No. 3 in the Player of the Year derby which Furue continued to lead on a strong closing 68 to snatch runner-up honors in the Y120 million event at 280.
“I was so nervous but I stayed focused,” said Hara, who dispatched playing partner Yuna Nishimura, who yielded three strokes in the first three holes, despite a 36 start then held off Furue with birdies on Nos. 10 and 13.
Furue, who started the final round at joint 10th after a woeful 75 Saturday, claimed 300 points for finishing second and firmed up her lead in the POTY race with 1371.78 points, frustrating Saso, who settled for measly 98 points for 1146.85 points in their heated battle for the coveted individual crown.
Hara assembeld 1049.32 points for third.
Saso received Y4.638 million for her joint sixth place effort but stayed on top of the money rankings though she missed hitting the Y100 million mark with total earnings of Y93,891.170.
Still, it was a remarkable campaign for the 19-year-old rookie, who made quite an impression by scoring back-to-back victories at NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies last August before her game went on a downswing with only one Top 10 finish to show in her next six tournaments.
That slump led to a first missed cut stint after nine consecutive cuts made and though she redeemed herself with a superb runner-up finish in the Toto Japan Classic, she failed to advance again in the next tournament, finished tied for third at Daio Paper Elleair before ending up at joint sixth this week.
Furue, who topped the Tokai Classic last Sept. and swept the Itoen Ladies and Daio Paper Elleair Open the last two weeks to emerge the winningest in the pandemic-hit season, pulled within Saso in the money race with Y90,502,992 in winnings while Hara placed third with Y70,722,208.
World No. 15 Hinako Shibuno carded a 71 and tied for third with Momoko Ueda, who fumbled with a 74, and Nishimura, who limped with a 75, at 282 while Mikajima Kana and Mamiko Higa, who both shot 73s, and Minami Hiruta, who carded a 74, tied Saso at 284.
Brimming with confidence after shooting the day’s best 69 in the windy third round that pulled her within three off Hara, Saso pressed her bid early but flubbed a 16-foot birdie try off the fringe on the opening hole then squandered a four-footer on the par-5 second.
But Hara and Nishimura also stumbled with flawed wedge shots, missing the No. 2 green on their third shots with the former overshooting it and then three-putting on the sleek surface and the latter reaching in four but failing to save par after her putt from three feet lipped the cup.
After another pair of pars, Saso bogeyed the 194-yard par-3 No. 5 where her chip shot from the rough in front of the green darted way past the pin and rested onto the fringe. She chipped again and putted from two feet for bogey.
The 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist overshot the par-4 No. 6 green and chipped to within four feet but failed to drain the putt for another bogey as she dropped farther back off Hara, who came through with a couple of scrambling pars to stay in command.
Frustrated by that mishap, Saso hit an errant drive into the woods and needed to play out, only to come up short off the green on her third shot and made another bogey to slip from joint third to solo eighth in the standings.
A flight behind, Hara rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the sixth to go three-up on new pursuer Ueda but the former saved par again from six feet to stave off the threat heading to the backside.
Saso broke her run of bad breaks with a five-foot birdie on the 167-yard par-3 No. 8 then added another birdie on the 10th to go six-under overall again only to bow out of contention with that costly bogey on the 11th. She closed out her maiden JLPGA season with five missed fairways and six missed greens, including two off the bunkers which she failed to rescue, and finished with 30 putts.