Saso rally fizzles out, trails by 4

Saso rally fizzles out, trails by 4

Saso rally fizzles out, trails by 4

MANILA, Philippines — Charging back with four birdies, capped by a tough putt from the long range on No. 14, Yuka Saso came away with two brilliant shots on the par-5 15th and stared at an eagle-putt from around six feet, her hopes of closing in on Jin Young Ko growing by each shot and each putt.

But she misread her line and reluctantly signed for birdie though the muffed putt still pulled her to within two from six down of the three-day leader. But the Korean also birdied No. 15 four flights behind and regained a three-shot lead and went 4-up at the end of the long day at the Mountain Ridge Country Club as Saso stumbled with a costly bogey on the 17th.

That summed up the windy third round of the Cognizant Founders Cup in New Jersey Saturday (Sunday, Manila time) where a slew of aces, led by the reigning US Women’s Open champion, pursued Ko with a run of birdies and the Korean checking a wobbly frontside and thwarting them with a key late birdie.

Ko did slow down with a 69 after a fiery opening 63 and a gutsy 68 she completed early Saturday following a second straight delay due to darkness but she succeeded in stretching her lead to four over four rivals with a 13-under 200 aggregate as she took a step closer to completing a wire-to-wire triumph in the $3 million championship.

“I think I didn’t play much too aggressive play in the afternoon,” said Ko, who continued to endure the rigors of playing four straight weeks that netted her a victory and a tied for second effort. “But play was good. I still made it two-under and yeah, I can’t wait to play tomorrow.”

Saso also can’t wait to get going, eager to redeem herself from a botched late eagle bid and a mishap that would’ve pulled her to within one of the world No. 2. She signed a 67 and tied Americans Elizabeth Szokol and Lindsey Weaver, who shot 65 and 69, respectively, and two-time major winner So Yeon Ryu, also of Korea, who carded a 71, at 204.

World No. 1 and Olympic champion Nelly Korda of the US toughened up at the finish, birdying two of the last four holes to save a 68 but her 206 total kept her six shots adrift of Ko in the company of Germany’s Caroline Masson and Mexico’s Maria Fassi, who turned in identical 69s, and French Perrine Delacour and fellow American Lexi Thompson, who posted similar 70s.

The rest could be too far behind to pose a threat to a fired-up Ko, who is out to match Korda’s three-title romp this season following her victories in the Volunteers of America Classic and the Portland Classic.

Dottie Ardina, the other Filipina in the fold, mixed four birdies against the same number of bogeys for a 71, hardly moving a spot higher to joint 41at at 212, 12 strokes off the leader.

“The last two days weren’t breeze much on the course but today, maybe 10 miles. So little hard to get like club choice,” said the Solaire-backed Ko. “Still, the course is amazing, so fairways are really good and greens are perfect.”

Saso also nearly went flawless after a three-birdie roll at the front. Falling behind by six at joint ninth at completion of her second play (70), the ICTSI-sponsored ace pulled to within two with a curling birdie on No. 14 from way out, the ball circling the cup before going in.

After that eagle miss and a routine par on the par-3 16th, Saso failed to go up-and-down on the next despite a solid drive for a 32-35, enabling Ko to re-establish a big lead with that clutch birdie in the last group to save a 35-34.

But Saso had fought her way back into contention from deeper holes, including in the 2018 Asian Games as an amateur when she rallied from way behind to clinch the individual and team gold medals. In the US Women’s Open last June, she rallied from five down at the backside of the Olympic Club then nipped Nasa Hataoka on the third playoff hole to score a historic major breakthrough.

She hopes to pull off another Sunday thriller as she sets out with Ko and Szokol in the featured 9:50 a.m. flight (Monday in Manila). But with the way the Korean ace is playing the last four weeks, the Fil-Japanese will need a lot of rallying to do, plus breaks and luck, to essay another scintillating triumph.

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