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Back in form, Saso stalks Korean with 70

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Five tournaments without a shot at the crown proved to be too long a spell for two-leg winner Yuka Saso, who conjured up memories of her past exploits to shoot a 70 and trail in-form Korean Bae Seon Woo by two after 18 holes of the Fujitsu Ladies 2020 in Chiba Prefecture in Japan today.

The Fil-Japanese blew a clear chance to match or even grab the first day honors with a late bogey that marred an otherwise fine start but closed out with a pair of stirring par-saves to salvage a 34-36 and a share of seventh with eight others at the challenging Tokyu Seven Hundred Club.

The power-hitting Saso, who placed no better than joint eighth since sweeping the NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies diadems last August to yield the Player of the Year lead to Sakura Koiwai, birdied the par-3 No. 4 and the next two par-5s (Nos. 7 and 10) to get into the early mix.

But after three straight pars, she overshot the 14th green off another booming drive and chipped short from the ankle-deep rough. She chipped again and canned in a five-footer for bogey.

Looking to regain the stroke, Saso, who limped to joint 29th in Golf5 Ladies, tied for 13th in JLPGA's first major, the Minolta Cup, rallied to share eighth place at Tokai Classic before winding up tied for 14th and joint 12th in Japan Open and Stanley Ladies, respectively reached the par-5 16th green in two off a superb second shot that landed on the edge of the sloping green below the pin. She putted to within three feet but misread the line to her dismay.

She then hit her tee shot into the left rough of the par-3 17th but chipped to within four feet to save par then drove to the adjacent fairway of No. 18, her view to the green blocked by a thickly forested hill.

After hitting a blind approach shot, she eagerly ran back to the fairway, only to find her ball in the thick rough before greenside bunkers. But she chipped to within three feet and made the putt for a share of seventh with Ji Hee Lee, Asako Fujimoto, Yuri Yoshida, Jiyai Shin, Haruka Kudo, Ayano Yasuda, flightmate Asuya Kashiwabara and Koiwai in 54-hole, Y100 million tournament offering a top purse of Y18 million (P8.3 miliion).

The 19-year-old money race leader likewise kept her domination of veteran Momoko Ueda, who actually recovered from a pair of bogey mishaps with birdies on Nos. 7 and 11 to rescue a 72.

Woo, 24, who lost to Mone Inami in a playoff in last week’s storm-hit Stanley Cup, rattled off three birdies at the front before adding another in the last nine holes for a bogey-free 68 and a one-stroke lead over former champion Teresa Lu and four others.

Lu, who hit two birdies against a bogey at the front, gunned down three birdies at the back to tie for the lead. But the veteran campaigner bogeyed the closing hole to slip to joint second at 69 with Kana Nagai, multi-titled Mamiko Higa, Inami, and Akira Yamaji, who spiked her 36-33 card with an ace on the 171-yard No. 17.

Over in Florida, Dottie Ardina battled back from two early backside bogeys with birdies on Nos. 15 and 18 then parred the frontside for an even-par 73, five strokes behind Finland’s Matilda Castren at the start of the Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship at the Mission Inn and Resort Club course in the Howey-in-the-Hills Thursday.

Ardina proved quite steady off the mound, hitting all but two fairways but struggled with her iron game, missing six greens and ending up with 30 putts for a share of 19th.

Castren fired an eagle-spiked 68 to open a one-shot lead over Scot Gemma Dryburgh in the 54-hole $125,000 event of the Symetra Tour while Fil-Am Clariss Guce limped with a 76. (Jeanne Cortez)

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