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Saso's next goal: Gold in Tokyo

Saso's next goal: Gold in Tokyo

MANILA, Philippines — With her historic triumph at the 76th US Women’s Open, Fil-Japanese golf star Yuka Saso has sparked much excitement and hope for a Philippine Olympic Team hunting for that elusive gold medal in Tokyo next month.

Saso boosted her stock and built momentum for the upcoming Olympiad by beating the world’s top lady golfers for the Harton S. Semple Trophy and the $1 million top prize in San Francisco yesterday.

The 19-year-old Saso earned the distinction as the youngest US Women’s Open titlist, tying the record of 2008 winner Inbee Park of Korea (19 years, 11 months, 17 days) and becoming the first Filipino to rule a golf major.

“Focus muna po ako siguro sa upcoming tournaments but super excited po ako for the Olympics,” Saso said in her first presscon as the US Open queen.

The ICTSI-backed Saso is a shoo-in to make the 60-player field for the July 23-Aug. 8 Tokyo Games. She ranks 22nd as of last week’s Olympic Golf Rankings. The qualifiers list will be finalized after the June 28 cutoff date.

“Yuka Saso is one of (our) big bets this coming Olympics,” Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino told The STAR.

“Her victory solidifies her position in ladies’ golf and sends the strongest message that the young Filipina is ready for gold in the Tokyo Olympics,” he added.

Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Willian Ramirez shared this sentiment.

“With her showing, she is very capable of getting Olympic medals,” he said.

Saso displayed poise in overcoming back-to-back double-bogeys early in the round to salvage a one-over 73. After trailing leader Lexi Thompson by as many as five early on, Saso caught up with Japanese Nasa Hataoka at four-under and forced a playoff.

She beat Hataoka with a 10-foot birdie putt in the third playoff hole – the No. 9 – to meet her date with destiny.

Congratulatory messages flowed for Saso, including one from Malacañang.

“The Palace greets Yuka Saso. She is indeed the pride and glory of our country. We are all proud of you. It’s a great day in Philippine sports,” said Presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

Saso likewise revealed getting inspiration from her idol, 2011 US Open kingpin Rory McIlroy.

“Rory mentioned me on Instagram and said, ‘Get that trophy!’ And I did! So thank you, Rory,” said Saso, who famously patterned her swing after McIlroy’s.

Four-time major champion McIlroy congratulated Saso.

“Everyone’s going to be watching Yuka Saso swing videos on YouTube now. Congratulations,” he wrote.