THE Philippines’ Yuka Saso carded a one-under par 71 on Friday to trail the two leaders by five shots at the start of the Hoken no Mado Ladies championship in Fukuoka Prefecture.
Banking on her power and distance when her short game disappeared, Saso birdied the four par-5s of the Fukuoka Country Club’s White course to highlight her solid round, including the last on the 18th that broke an alarming skid of three bogeys in a five-hole stretch from No. 15.
That enabled her to move from the middle of the 114-player pack to joint 31st but it will be an uphill battle for the ICTSI-backed shotmaker as Chie Arimura turned in a bogey-free 66, which co-leader Yuri Yoshida matched with a seven-birdie, one-bogey output.
The local pair took a one-shot lead over compatriot Momoko Osato, who turned in a 67 that featured six birdies against a bogey, while Shoko Sasaki, Asuka Ishikawa and three-leg winner Inami Mone all fired 68s to make it crowded leaderboard in the early going of the Y120 million event.
Inami, who ruled the Yamaha Open, the Fujifilm Open and the Fujisankei Classic last month, came out of a one-under card at the turn smoking, hitting three straight birdies from No. 10. She did fall back with a bogey on No. 15 but recovered the stroke with another birdie on the 17th to stay on track for a record fourth championship.
Sasaki also proved impressive with a flawless 35-33 card while Ishikawa spiked her 34-34 round with a pitch-in eagle on the par-4 No. 5.
Twelve others put in identical 69s, including two-leg winner Sakura Koiwai and Erika Hara, who upstaged Saso and Ayaka Furue in their featured flight with a bogey-less 34-35 round, while 11 players carded 70s in a day of low scoring, including last year’s leg winners Saki Nagamine, Jiyai Shin and Ayaka Watanabe.
Just when Saso thought she had the par-72 layout all figured out after birdying three of the first five holes, including the first two par-5s, she stumbled with a double-bogey on the par-4 No. 6 on a couple of errant hits and spent the rest of the day basking on every birdie hit but ruing every stroke lost.
She birdied the seventh but gave up the stroke on the ninth, went three-under again with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 but reeled with bogeys on Nos. 13, 14 and 17.
The Olympic-bound Saso, who is also gearing up for her second US Women’s Open stint early next month, hopes to re-display her mastery of the long holes in today’s second round in an attempt to gain on the leaders and help fuel her drive to end a long drought on the LPGA of Japan Tour title after scoring back-to-back victories in NEC Karuizawa and Nitori Ladies last year.