Saso banners TOTO Classic cast in Japan Tour return

Saso banners TOTO Classic cast in Japan Tour return

Saso banners TOTO Classic cast in Japan Tour return

MANILA, Philippines – Five months after her last LPGA of Japan Tour appearance, Yuka Saso heads back to where it all started.

And it should make the Fil-Japanese shotmaker excited and feel a lot better renewing ties — in competitive way — with the locals whom she has befriended during the course of her remarkable pro career launch last year.

The 20-year-old Saso will be among the big guns in the select field vying in the TOTO Japan Classic slated Nov. 4-7 in Shiga Prefecture, all geared up for a crack at a third championship in the region’s premier ladies circuit.

Saso, who made the JLPGA her base after falling short in the LPGA Q-School Stage 2 in late 2019, had looked forward to returning to Japan after gaining a spot and playing in the US Women’s Open last June.

But her plans — and golfing career for that matter — changed for the better after she pulled off that improbable feat in LPGA’s second major championship that saw her fight back from five down in the last nine holes and edge Nasa Hataoka on the third playoff hole at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

It was a compelling triumph that turned the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist to an instant star while earning a five-year LPGA membership status.

That led her to dropping her JLPGA campaign in favor of the more lucrative LPGA Tour as part of her plan and dream to get better and get a shot at the world No. 1 ranking.

She actually returned to Japan last August to compete in the Tokyo Olympics though she never had the chance to contend for the gold but eventually rallied to finish joint ninth in her first sortie in the Quadrennial Games.

She then proceeded to Europe for a couple of LPGA tournaments, including the AIG Women’s Open, another major, then resumed her LPGA Tour campaign and turned in a couple of fourth place finishes.

She, however, opted to skip the next LPGA event, the BMW Championship, set this week in South Korea after the recent Cognizant Founders Cup and will use the break to head back to Japan and slug it out with the likes of Ayaka Furue, Sakura Koiwai, Ai Suzuki, Momoko Ueda, Saki Nagamine, Yuna Nishimura, Mamiko Higa, Eri Okayama, Minami Katsu and Ayaka Watanabe.

JIyai Shin, who foiled the current world No. 5 by three in last year’s edition of the annual event played over 54 holes at the Taiheiyo Club’s Minori course in Ibaraki, is also in the fold and, like everybody else, must be looking forward to challenging Saso’s vastly improved game in the Y200 million championship set over 72 holes.

Mone Inami, for one, must be keen on facing off with Saso and proving her mettle that netted her not only a silver medal in the Olympics but also seven JLPGA victories this year, including the Japan Ladies Professional Golf Championship, a major, in Ibaraki last month.

Saso has lorded it over the LPGA of Japan Tour field in her rookie season last year that had her winning two tournaments and posting six top 10 finishes to emerge the top money earner while placing No. 2 in the Player of the Year derby before moving over to the LPGA Tour.

Koiwai, who has also disputed a number of titles with Saso last year, is likewise tipped to figure prominently in the TOTO Classic coming off a four-win run this season along with two-leg winner Nishimura and recent Fujitsu Ladies victor Furue.

Saso had played in six JLPGA events this year, the last in the Bridgestone Ladies Open in Aichi last May where she tied for ninth.

After the Japan sortie, however, Saso will fly back to the US to honor her commitment to play in the last two LPGA tournaments, the Pelican Championship on Nov. 11-14 in Belleair and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship on Nov. 18-21 in Naples, both in Florida.

The final event features the Top 60 players in the Race to CME Globe Season after the Founders Cup with Saso ending up at No. 14 despite seeing action in only eight tournaments, the least by any player in the Top 40.

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