Saso falls short of another LPGA title despite 2 eagles

Saso falls short of another LPGA title despite 2 eagles

Saso falls short of another LPGA title despite 2 eagles

MANILA, Philippines – Even with two eagles, Yuka Saso still fell short by two in her drive for a second LPGA crown.

Nasa Hataoka matched her rivals’ fiery start in a day when birdies came like rain with Saso even anchoring her late fightback from as far as seven down with a couple of eagles, including on the last hole, that however proved not enough to propel her to a second championship and make it two-in-row over the Japanese ace, whom she edged in sudden death to score a major breakthrough in the US Women's Open last June.

Instead, Hataoka got back at the world No. 7, bucking a late mishap with clutch pars to frustrate a late-charging Korean Eun-Hee Ji and Aussie Minjee Lee by one on a closing 67 in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at the Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers Sunday (Monday, Manila time).

It was Hataoka’s fifth LPGA Tour victory in a winning campaign she launched with a two-stroke triumph over American Austin Ernst right in this event at the par-71 layout in 2018.

“My first win being here and of course, the two holes-in-one. It kind of feels like it’s my power spot,” said Hataoka, who hit two aces in the first two days of the 54-hole championship that produced back-to-back 65s and spiked a winning 16-under 197 total worth $345,000.

Holding sway with five birdies in the first 11 holes, including three in the first four, Hataoka, 22, overshot the 13th green and chipped to some 50 feet past the cup for bogey, giving at least four pursuers a stab at glory.

“It was pretty tight, very stressful because the other players were so close to me. It was pretty stressful for me, yeah,” said Hataoka, whose brave run of pars in the last five holes, however, was enough to Ji and Lee’s stretch-run drive.

Ji, one stroke behind halfway joint leaders Hataoka and Lee, birdied No. 9, eagled the par-5 14th and holed out with another birdie to match Hataoka’s 67 while Lee checked a two-birdie, two-bogey frontside card with three backnine birdies to shoot a 68 as they finished tied for second at 198. Each received $178,028.

Saso, who crashed into Top 10 from way down at 44th with a second round 65, four shots off Hataoka, fell by seven with pars in the first five holes but moved into contention with a birdie-eagle feat from No. 6.

The ICTSI-backed ace, who battled back from five down with nine holes left then outduelled Hataoka on the third playoff hole in the US Women's Open, trailed by seven again with a bogey on No. 11, which Hataoka birdied in the last flight, but worked her way back with birdies on Nos. 15 and 17 then finished strong with an eagle for a second 65.

“I had probably like 230 yards to the flag on No. 7, help wind. Had 5-wood probably like 50 or 60 feet putt, left to right, Pretty long putt, it was pretty good, and went in. Maybe lucky,” said Saso, who wound up with a 199 for a share of fourth with multi-titled American Danielle Kang.

“On No. 18, I got to like 210-215 yards to the flag. I had a 5-wood again and actually after I hit I said: ‘Good.’ So I hit pretty good shot and had two eagles,” added Saso, who pocketed $104,506 (P5.3 million) for a three-day job.

She, however, slipped one rung to No. 4 in the current money rankings with $1,338,709 in total winnings. Absentee Nelly Korda of the US stayed on top with $1,941,977 with Hataoka taking the second spot with $1,4-3,159 and Lee moving to third with $1,316,731.

Tied with Saso at ninth after 36 holes, Kang charged back into strong contention as she matched Hataoka’s solid frontside 32 then pulled within one with three birdies in the first five holes at the back.

But the five-time LPGA Tour winner missed the 16th green and failed to go up-and-down then settled for back-to-back closing pars to equal Saso’s six-under card.

Despite coming up short, Saso, who missed just two fairways and three greens and finished with 29 putts, more than showed her mettle with her strong showing coming off a long five-week break, easily making her a top contender in this weekend’s ShopRite LPGA Classic, another 54-hole championship, in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Dottie Ardina fired a bogey-free 68 on a 29-putt performance that also saw her miss just two fairways and four greens as she finished tied at 56th with 209 and received $5,923.

But Bianca Pagdanganan failed to keep the momentum of her second round 65 as she hobbled on Pinnacle’s surface, needing 33 putts in a three-birdie, three-bogey round for a 71. She hit all but one fairway and failed to reach regulation four times on her way to a 212 total for a share of 74th worth $4,188.

Ardina and Pagdanganan will also see action in the $1.75 million ShopRite Classic.

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