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Saso misses cut despite second round rally

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Facing elimination for the second time in her last three tournaments, Yuka Saso dug deep into her bag of tricks and ran off three-straight birdies coming home from No. 3, sparking hopes for a big comeback and a big escape for the Player of the Year and money list frontrunner.

It didn't materialize and the power-hitting Fil-Japanese took another early exit in a tournament she was tipped to contend following a strong runner-up finish off a brilliant final round performance in the Toto Classic last weekend.

Saso stumbled with a bogey on No. 8 in a frantic attempt to stave off elimination, finishing with a 70 Saturday and out of the final round of the Itoen Ladies golf tournament heading to a thriller of a finish in Chiba, Japan.

The ICTSI-backed ace nearly pulled off a caper coming off a one-over card in the day and five-over overall, stringing three straight birdies from No. 3 of the Great Island Club course to move within two of the cutoff line at even par.

But she failed to give herself good looks on Nos. 6 and 7 and dropped a costly stroke on No. 8 before holing out with another birdie for a 34-36. Counting her worst start of 76 in 11 tournaments, Saso wound up with a 146 for joint 67th, two strokes off the top 50 plus ties who pooled at least a 144 to advance to the final round of the Y100 million event.

It was a sorry, unlikely stint for Saso, who sparked hopes for a third leg victory after a runner-up finish in the LPGA of Japan Tour’s third major where she closed out with a sparkling bogey-free 63 to finish behind Korean Shin Jie.

But she struggled with her iron game and putting Friday, missing five greens and finishing with 34 putts for that 76 that dropped her to joint 84th in the 96-player starting field.

Though she birdied the par-5 No. 13, she missed her chance on the other par-5, No. 15, and on the next hole and failed to get up-and-down on Nos. 18 and 1 for a one-over card that all but kept her out of the running.

But the Player of the Year and money list leader refused to give up, birdying Nos. 3, 4 and 5 to fuel some kind of hopes that however fizzled out. She missed the cut for the second time in her last three tournaments.

Ayaka Furue, meanwhile, flashed the form that netted her the Tokai Classic title last Sept., firing a seven-under 65 while Hikaru Yoshimoto shot a 66 as they took charge at 134, two strokes ahead of overnight leader Kim Ha Neul and two others while a slew of players stood just a shot or two behind to guarantee a wide-open battle for top honors worth Y18 million.

Kim slowed down with a three-birdie, two-bogey card of 71 after a solid 65 as she slipped to joint third at 136 with compatriot Lee Bo-Mee and Yoon Chae Young, who carded 65 and 68, respectively, while Miki Saki fired a 68 to tie Nana Suganuma (69) and Mika Miyazato (70) at 137 and Bae Seon Woo and Shiho Oyama turned in second straight 69s for joint ninth at 138.

Toto Classic champion Jie also shot a 68 to stay on track of another crown at 139 with fellow Korean Bae Seon Woo with major winner Saki Nagamine (68), Kido Ai (69), Mami Fukuda (69, Nana Yamashiro (63), Na-Ri Lee (71) and Yoko Maeda (71).

Sakura Koiwai shot a 70 for joint 30th at 141 and though she stayed too far behind to contend, the local bet poised herself to re-claiming the Player of the Year lead from Saso heading to the last two tournaments of the pandemic-shortened JLPGA season.

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